DEAR HARRIETTE: I work with a woman who is clearly racist. Almost every day she comes to work, and during small talk when people typically are talking about their families or what they are going to do for the weekend, she talks about how black people are moving into her neighborhood and she wants them out. Or she brings up the immigration issue at the border and adds her perspective that immigrants should all be arrested because they are criminals.
I feel like political rhetoric has reached an all-time high when it lives in my office. We are normal working people. I hate that people think it's OK to judge others based on their race or country of origin and that they feel that they can blatantly complain about their gripes in an open setting. I feel like people think they can just say anything these days, and it won't matter. I was taught that people should treat one another with respect. These days, it feels like that has gone out the window. Can I say anything to get this woman to tone it down? -- Stop the Vitriol, Atlanta
DEAR STOP THE VITRIOL: Tensions are running particularly high these days, and many people have set up camp on either side of the political spectrum. And yet, the workplace is supposed to be equal opportunity and without prejudice.
First, you can say something to the woman the next time she begins her tirade. Tell her that her commentary makes you uncomfortable, and ask her to stop. Next, report her to human resources. If you can, tape a conversation so that you have proof of what she is saying. You have the right to work in an environment free of racial prejudice, but in order to exercise that right, you may have to speak up. That's OK to do. Indeed, throughout history, it has been a requirement for change.
DEAR HARRIETTE: There's a boy who goes to my church who has some kind of serious disability. He cannot speak, and his body is deformed. He comes to church every Sunday and is obedient to his mother. My question is, how can I be supportive of him? I say hello, but I am not sure if he knows I'm talking to him. I don't want to be like some of my parishioners who gawk and talk about them in a corner. I want to do the right thing. I just don't know what that is. -- Showing Compassion, Syracuse, New York
DEAR SHOWING COMPASSION: Continue to speak to the boy and his mother. Make eye contact if you can. Next time you see his mother, ask if you can have a private word with her. Introduce yourself. Let her know that you want to be supportive in the best possible way to her and her son, and ask how best to communicate with him. Ask if there is anything the children's ministry can do to better engage them. See if she will open up about her son's condition and how he can best be supported so that he can feel fully welcome. She will likely appreciate your reaching out. Listen carefully to learn what you can do.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.