Remaining impartial between to ideologically opposing workplace factions?
January 29, 2015 3:58 AM   Subscribe

How do I remain impartial between two warring factions? A few years ago I joined my workplace union. As I have worked my way into HQ, I have discovered two distinct factions. I have made many good friends on either side but it’s getting difficult to enjoy myself and feel included. I get upset and feel like I want to quit... HELP :/

I’m no revolutionary; just a regular gung ho activist, in the sense that being an organiser and a decision maker in my union, (which has tens of thousands of members) is part of the call to make my small corner of the world a better place. Aside from trying to save jobs and represent members in workplace matters I leaflet the community on/offline about the usual stuff, fracking, tax avoidance, healthcare etc...

The first year or two as I got involved I had so much fun and felt like I was doing well in the union, everyone remarked how I made the best speeches, had great ideas and I was ushered into lots of different positions on different committees (Youth, LGBT, Employment, Learning, Congress etc) writing articles for publication attending conferences on behalf of members here and sometimes abroad.

I felt I had found my calling, but all this meant lots of time with the same few hundred leading representatives, some of it leisure time, so I made good friends, close enough to go to birthdays/weddings even funerals. Turns out being a catalyst for good is much harder than I thought.

For the last year or so I have known about 2 distinct factions, one mostly socialists, the other mostly communists. They via for control of the council and at election time every year and hate each other with a passion. As I got to know people, I was being invited to fringe opposing fringe meetings. I have come to realise that the hatred is very personal in that they slander each other in their separate groups. I, having been somewhat naive thinking it was like any workplace in that some people just didn’t get along. I can’t attend either fringe meetings now as they usually run concurrently and I am left alone...

I can get some on each side to admit personally that it is all stupid, in that they all work on about 97% of the same issues aside from a few political and ideological objectives they all are stuck working together on the same thing and they would be so much more effective if they worked together. I really dont see any advantage of being on either side, despite being in the inner circle.

So I’ve been pressurised to join the slate by both sides for some time now, each extolling their virtues and telling how the other side lies and claims work they did as their own etc. Its election time again and I have been specifically tagged in both sides of the campaigns on social media, leading to personal messages saying “are you voting for people a, and can we count on you to spread the word etc”

I don’t want to reply saying “no” or “I vote for my friends on each side” because I know it will result in making enemies, and that’s something I never want to do, not that I haven’t had issues in the past wanting everyone to like me... It’s just I see so many older members who used to be friends hate each other now, and I am upset by the idea that in the future I will have to choose to hate half of the good friends I have made. I get really upset sometime and feel like i want to quit activism and volunteering altogether! HELP :/

1. How can reply to their messages and turn down their calls to canvass even though i am somewhat on side?
2. How do I remain impartial and listen to them slander each other?
3. How do I convince them that i’m impartial, not a mole or backstabbing each side in turn etc?

Thank you in advance :)
posted by krisb1701d to Human Relations (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It sucks, but I don't think you can get everything you want here. The groups are not going to change anytime soon, and sitting on the fence will lead to you being regarded as an outsider by both sides, rather than a friend to all.
I can understand wanting to get out entirely, but that will probably cut you off from the type of activism you enjoy, so that's a difficult choice, although given the rather toxic group dynamics it might be the healthiest in the long run.
If you want to stay involved I think the best you can do is to think about which group you are genuinely closer to - either because you get on with them better, they are more effective, or you are closer to their positions - and throw in your lot with them. People on the other side will be disappointed, but if any of them are genuine friends you can try to keep those friendships up outside of the activist world. That may be pretty difficult though, if people are continually trying to find reasons to dislike the other side - inevitably people on the side you don't pick will start to badmouth you as a member of the "wrong" side.
posted by crocomancer at 4:18 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Friendships, allies, acquaintances tend to come and go,, or shift, over time. I think the best you can do is to search your own values, identify and develop your own positions and do not be hesitant to articulate them. Being respected and admired usually, if not always, trumps alliances. Let them shape around you rather than vice versa. Wishing you well and continued involvement.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:03 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

1. "I'm just not that into it. Sorry, you'll need to find someone else." And "that won't be possible." Repeat until they stop.

2. Don't listen. Say "I'm so tired of hearing this, even though I consider us friends. All I hear is badmouthing back and forth. I don't want to hear any more. Let's talk about something more concrete we can do about X issue." And the like.

3. Same answer as questions 1 and 2.
posted by zennie at 6:58 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am upset by the idea that in the future I will have to choose to hate half of the good friends I have made.

If you don't want to just throw in your lot with one side, then you'll need to find your close friends elsewhere, outside the group. It doesn't sound like any of these people can be good friends to you without eventually forcing you to disavow your friends on the other side.

If some people on both sides like you, then you may be in the best position of anyone to take a leadership role where you transcend the bickering. If that's what you'd like to do, repeat "I only get involved on the issues that are common ground." Untag yourself from both sides' social media, don't respond to private messages but announce publicly that you'll be abstaining from voting, and then actually abstain, don't go to either side's fringe meeting, stop people from telling you slander, just relentlessly seek out the reasonable people who want to focus on moving common ground issues forward, and keep doing the work you're doing--speeches, articles, conferences. Be too busy doing productive work to have any time for the factions. Again, this will probably mean that your friendships will cool, both sides will treat you as an outsider, and you will need to look for support and friendship elsewhere. But you would be a tremendous asset for the 97% of issues that are in common on both sides, and I think it would be the way to be proud of your activism.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:35 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

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