Healthy Resolution of Conflict at RAF Lakenheath
Shane Hinton is stationed at RAF Lakenheath, UK. He has been active with the local humanist communities and is one of our certified lay leaders. He is married with (soon to be) two children. He recounts this story of resolving issues in the workplace.
Today (Apr 18, 2014) was dedicated to sexual assault prevention training. After briefing with the Wing Commander, we broke up within our squadrons in groups of about 15 people for very open discussions. It included short, real-life and some hypothetical examples being read aloud and us answering questions about the stories. I can’t remember the example exactly, but the question was something like “why do we think sexual assault is such a prevalent issue nowadays?”
The answer given blew me away. I will not mention rank, job or anything like that but someone who is QUITE a bit higher in the chain than me said (this is NOT an exact quote but generally what he said):
[paraphrased] “This is a controversial statement, but I think that since America was founded on Judeo-Christian values, given that our money has ‘In God We trust’ and that God is mentioned in our oath of enlistment, that we have steered to far away from our values… So I think us veering too far from our Judeo-Christian values could increase sexual assaults.”
I was astonished. I looked around in disbelief that no one was saying anything in a room with ranks ranging from Airmen to Colonel and everyone in between and that the conversation just continued like normal. I did not say anything right away; my blood was boiling. It was sort of close to lunchtime and then we would reconvene. So I decided to save my comments for after lunch. I had never discussed my beliefs too much especially in a room full of people with higher rank than me. The person who made the comments is so well liked, charismatic and funny, and I do like this person as well. But after lunch was over I said:
[paraphrased] “I just want to address a bit from the morning session. I think when [person in question] said [everything I said above], that didn’t sit right with me or several of my coworkers. Firstly, when you said that America was founded on Judeo-Christian values. That’s debatable, but when you said that part about people veering too far from these values and that they may be the source of immoral behavior such as sexual assault, I found that quite offensive. As an Atheist, and I know you probably didn’t know this nor anyone else here, and I know you didn’t point your finger at me in particular, but as an atheist, I found that not only to be offensive, but wrong. For you to say that I am, or any other person of a different faith is more at risk to sexually assault someone because of what I believe is just plain wrong. If you look across the spectrum of people’s faiths, you do not see spike of sexual assaults with certain beliefs systems or non-beliefs. So I don’t like the misinformation.”
At this point he looked like he had just ran over a dog and others started to interject with their versions of what THEY thought he said. I tried to give a rational, sensible rebuttal every time. He knew what he said was “controversial,” and I can honestly say I was offended. He did apologize to the whole group and pulled me aside to apologize and tell me that he thought I was a very moral person and that I was a great leader. But all I really heard was “please don’t tell the commander. Please don’t tell the commander.”
Editors note: There are a couple of important points to interject. First, that this was a place for open discussion. Sexist, racist, anti-atheist, anti-Christian, anti-gay, and other comments are bound to come up. People should feel free to speak their mind to allow for discussion and resolution as happened in this case. Such speech would be inappropriate by cemetery volunteers, in official chaplain columns, by the training leaders because in those cases individuals are acting and speaking in an official capacity. Expressing personal perspectives that might be controversial in these open, small-group forums without fear of command retribution fosters healthy dialogue and resolution at the lowest level.
I told him I didn’t think his intentions were to offend anyone, but the language he used was too common among the religious that maybe he didn’t realize how much of a rude thing that was to say. He agreed. So we agreed on no negative emotions between the two of us. The great part about this was a couple of others from the group (very senior to me but junior in rank to the person talking) approached me afterwards and praised me up and down for what I said and how I said it and they were very proud of me. This was along with several other people thanking me for what I said because they were afraid to.
All-in-all, I just wanted to share this because it made me feel really good to give a voice to those who were too scared to come forward and maybe next time they could be the ones standing up for themselves. I was so nervous when I decided to say something, but I am so glad I did.
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