Wars at Work: When in Doubt, Be Switzerland

from Infoplease . . .

Strict neutrality was its policy in both world wars. Geneva was the seat of the League of Nations (later the European headquarters of the United Nations) and of a number of international organizations.

On Sept 10, 2002, the Swiss abandoned their long-held neutrality to become the 190th member of the UN.

International disputes: none


Possibly crazy? Perhaps impossible? Politically naive and idealistic?

Being neutral in the face of major changes, upheavals, and warring factions at work can possibly be a poor or brilliant political move depending upon the circumstances. In one regard, either side could see you as a potential threat because they don't know exactly where you stand regarding an issue (are you for me or against me?). On the other hand, the fact that you didn't take a strong stand or move to one side shows that you are more flexible and willing to listen to both parties. And unfortunately, both sides could see you as snooty, selfish, or just disengaged, perhaps looking for another job (or in the case of Switzerland, counting the money in your bank accounts).

The bottom line comes down to this: you must do what keeps you employed and allows you to continue doing what you love. I love my job; I don't like all aspects of it, but I want to keep it. Furthermore, I am extremely busy: what matters right now in my situation is to keep afloat and keep teaching my students. I have opinions and I will voice them when I have the time to fight that battle, but right now, I have absolutely no fight in me. In addition, taking a strong stand against someone who is still your boss can be very uncomfortable to say the least. No matter what, your boss (unless he or she is a brutal despot--and I've worked for those nuts before) is still someone you turn to for support and guidance. Do you really want to ruin that relationship?

It's all very complicated. So I play Switzerland. I see the merits of both sides and listen to their views. I state my personal opinion directly and unemotionally; sometimes playing devil's advocate; yet I commiserate with them regarding their concerns with the situation. I guess, there really is no artifice in this, though it may seem that way. I don't necessarily make a game plan, but a neutrality plan so that I can concentrate on what I love most (teaching) and keep away from the land mines. So perhaps this isn't so much neutrality as "selective backing" --I pick and choose the issues that I agree and disagree with to support or nix.

I have found over the years that it actually requires more skill and work to take this side, but in the long run I feel less drained and sapped of energy. I also have a stronger sense of self, and self-respect. I have not betrayed how I feel and have honored my needs and beliefs first and foremost. So . . . I feel less fragile and worn out. Something has to be said about self preservation and keeping one's eye on the larger picture. By maintaining some distance I can see the issue more clearly.