The Ethical Dilemma: Over “Blessed”

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How (Blessed) Are You? I work for a large company. One of my coworkers, who I have worked with for years, started saying “I’m blessed, thanks” in response to “how are you?” I can’t seem to force myself to be rude and not ask this question. Is it petty to be annoyed by this? I’m probably a little sensitive being a DC-area transplant in a midwestern two-night where everyone seems to be religious, but this seems inappropriate in the office.

I also overheard him tell a fellow religious person “I am blessed and basking in the light of the Lord” in the breakroom one day. He sometimes put posters advertising his church events on the outside of his cube, too.

He’s a generally nice guy, and I don’t want to get him in trouble, but I feel uncomfortable around him now.

–He’s Blessed, And I Feel Cursed

Dear Cursed,

I first have a question for you: What’s a two-night? All I can find is “two-night stand,” which is a one-night stand good enough for a second night. I suspect you mean your location is like a one-horse town, i.e., very small and somewhat backward. Is that right? If so, thanks for introducing me to a new expression.

I’m afraid this is a case where you just have to tolerate your coworker’s behavior or avoid him when you can. Something must have happened to inspire him to start answering your pleasantry by professing his faith, which is his right to do regardless of whether it makes him seem icky or you feel repelled. From what you say about your office, others may find his response as affirming as you find it affronting. Back in DC, this guy’s response might be the butt of jokes and an obstacle to his advancement in the company, but where you are now it might be considered as innocuous as “fine, thanks” or even as exemplary behavior. If this is your only complaint about this “generally nice” fellow, it seems you should be less concerned about getting him in trouble and more concerned about how your (perfectly understandable) discomfort could get you into trouble, particularly if you’re the odd one out.

You could face the same sort of problem with a coworker who answers “how are you?” with a detailed discussion of every ache, pain, itch, and irritation he may be experiencing at the moment. Or someone who responds with suspicion or hostility about why you’re asking. Or one who responds with a smarmy, borderline harassing undertone (“I am soooo fine”). These are all behaviors we may confront in our workplaces—irritating, but not actionable.

So instead of saying “how are you?” try “hello” or “hey” or “good morning”—or just a friendly smile. Don’t do anything unkind or snarky—that will just diminish you, not your blessed colleague. You shouldn’t allow this minor friction to abrade your ability to perform in a professional manner and maintain congeniality among your coworkers.

By the way, I once heard someone who honestly misunderstood when someone said “bless you” to him, and he responded, without irony or malice, “thanks, but I didn’t sneeze.”