Q: One of my co-workers does nothing but chat all day. She comes to my office door and just won’t shut up. What do I do? – Beth
A: It seems really simple, but let me defer to my very old philosopher friend, Socrates. He invented the Socratic method of asking really good questions.
Socrates: Beth, has any solution occurred to you?
Beth: Well, I’ve thought of shutting my door.
S: Doors are meant to shut out distractions. And why haven’t you done that?
B: It seems kind of rude. I don’t want to hurt her feelings.
S: You seem like a very fair person and sensitive to others’ feelings. I’m curious – do you think it’s unjust to be rude?
B: It would make her feel bad.
S: Would that be unjust?
B: I didn’t say that. It would just be awkward and kind of mean.
S: Shutting the door would be mean?
B: Well, maybe not mean, but awkward for sure.
S: So it would be awkward, but not unjust?
S: What if you had to choose between the two?
B: I guess I’d rather be just, even if it felt uncomfortable.
S: You guess?
B: Well, no. For sure, I’d rather do the right thing even if it felt awkward.
S: Speaking of the right thing, who pays you for your work?
B: My employer, who else?
S: So your chatty co-worker doesn’t pay your salary?
B: Are you kidding me? She shouldn’t even get paid for all the time she wastes. Plus, she keeps me from doing my work.
S: Does that feel awkward?
B: Why are you talking about awkward again? We already covered that.
S: Well, it seemed important to you at the beginning, before you focused on justice, which is much more important. So your co-worker not only doesn’t work, but hinders your work. Is that just to your employer?
B: It’s almost like she’s stealing from him; totally unjust and unfair to me, too.
S: Do you still feel it would be rude to shut your door?
B: That would miss the point. I’m going to diplomatically tell her what I think. If she doesn’t change, I’m going to my boss. Still awkward – but just. Thanks Socrates. I guess it was a simple problem.
S: Doing the right thing is often simple, but, in the long run, it makes life worth living.
Jim Berlucchi is the executive director of the Spitzer Center, whose mission is to build cultures of evangelization (www.spitzercenter.org).