The Ethical Dilemma: My Co-Worker Plays Religious Music All Day Long. Help!

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Religious Muzak: I work in a hospital administration office with several physician offices very near my desk. One of the doctors has “relaxation” type music playing whenever she’s in her office. It’s on quite loud and she leaves her door open most of the time. Unfortunately, she’s recently taken to playing Christian music. I recognize the tunes from my years as a Mormon. When this music is playing, I feel like I’m sitting in church and find it quite uncomfortable.

If I complain to my supervisor and she speaks to the physician, she’ll know immediately who complained, and I certainly don’t want to create a situation where the physician is angry with me. At the same time, I don’t feel I should be subjected to music that makes me cringe. What do I do?

Her Hymns Hurt

Dear Hurt,

You don’t say whether your hospital is a public institution or if it’s under religious auspices. If it’s public, you could go to your supervisor and make the case that the religious tunes could be an affront not only to staff members (not just you, but others doing business with that doctor or just passing by), but also to hospital clients, who should not be subject to religious music while dealing with their medical issues. You could even get a legal group, such as the AHA’s legal center, on your side if the supervisor blows you off and you are willing to take it that far (see the warning below).

You could certainly make the same case if it’s a Christian or Mormon institution, but your objections on religious grounds wouldn’t carry as much (if any) weight. You could, however, broaden your complaint to include the “relaxation” music as well, and point out that music of any kind is distracting and inappropriate in the workplace. You’d appreciate it if the doctor would lower the volume, close the door, use headphones, or turn it off.

Either way, if you know of other people bothered by the music, enlist them to team up with you so the complaint is not solely from you. It’s your call whether first to go directly to the doctor and ask her (nicely) to tone it down—which of course will identify you as a complainer—or go straight to the supervisor, who might champion your cause, might view you as the problem, or, worst of all, start broadcasting her own deity ditties.

Alternatively, you could start playing your own favorite tunes—possibly ones that might be offensive to this doctor’s sensibilities. Then perhaps the supervisor would channel Solomon and enact a “no music” rule. But this passive/aggressive approach could backfire, making you the one with musical indiscretion.

Whatever you do, remember what Hippocrates said: “First do no harm.”  The harm would be jeopardizing your job, either by alienating the doctor or coming off as a nuisance to your supervisor. If that’s a real possibility, you might just have to turn a deaf ear until something gives: the doctor moves, you move, or others create a chorus voicing objections to the soul doctor music.

Good luck! Let us know what you decide to do and how it turns out.

Husband’s Hopeless Causes: My husband is wonderful—a little too wonderful. He loans money to (former?) substance-abusing acquaintances, some of whom die of hepatitis C before they repay him. He hires people with criminal records (for things like drug dealing and assault) or with varying degrees of mental illness, and then gives them the benefit of every doubt before firing them when he realizes he has to let them go. He rents apartments and storefronts to people for less than market rate, then allows them to go months partially paying or not paying at all before he takes steps to evict them, if he finally decides to do that. He joins religious organizations that aren’t even his brand and then pumps in donations to keep them afloat, while their almost non-existent congregations are content to let them fold. Our accountant told us to be sure we can document all of our charitable contributions because the amount we give is unusually high relative to our income and would be a red flag to the IRS.

We always have enough money for our family, and while we live modestly, I’m content with our lifestyle. But I worry about my spouse’s penchant for helping the helpless and hopeless.

Mom Said Never Feed Stray Cats

Dear Stray,

Your husband does indeed sound pretty wonderful. You don’t report that he gambles, fools around, abuses you or your children, obsesses over porn, is overly fond of alcohol or drugs, or leaves the toilet seat up. You also note that, however much time and money he’s giving away, there’s still enough left for you and your family.

So aside from any risk he might be taking by taking on convicted felons and addicts, and how much more time and money he might have to spare if he didn’t lavish so much on his causes, it doesn’t sound like there’s any damage done by his generosity. Meanwhile, there’s a tremendous upside: He’s giving people a chance when very few others might hire, house or otherwise help them. He’s supporting less fortunate individuals through rough times, regardless of whether they are likely to have any other kind of times. And there must be quite a number of recipients of his kindness out there who would be eager to return his favors if he is ever in need of help, if they are ever in a position to give it—which, thanks to him, some of them may be.

How many of us don’t have some degree of mental illness? Who has never needed a loan—or gift—to get by? Who hasn’t needed a break or a boost of some kind? Even though not all of your husband’s charities are tax-deductible, they all contribute to enhancing the karma all around him (and, by extension, around you). He sounds like a terrific role model. I don’t think you have a problem. I think you have a gem!