The ‘Accusational’: a Workplace Counterpart to the Confessional
Satire alert: Yes, the following is partly satirical.
“Confession is good for the soul” is fervently proclaimed by both those urging and those offering up confessions, irrespective of venue—e.g., church, police station, in a manager’s office, or in the kitchen with a suspicious wife dangling a lipstick-smeared tie.
The Concept of the “Accusational”
To the extent that there is a good case to be made for that tenet as an organizational and psychological, as well as a negotiation and moral principle, it is worthwhile considering the merits of a diametrically opposite variation on the curtained confessional: what I’ll call the “accusational”.
As I conceive it, an accusational would be an enclosed physical and psychological workplace space for privileged, private and generally confidential disclosures between a disgruntled, alarmed or whistle-blowing employee, manager, etc., and an “accusation counselor”, who, like the stereotypic father confessor, cannot disclose or publicly utilize anything learned in the session, with only rare exceptions of the sort described below.
Unlike a shop steward, interrogating detective, conventional employee counselor, betrayed wife, ombudsman or other appointed intermediary tasked with addressing staff complaints, whistle-blowings, personal issues, etc., an accusation counselor would be limited to playing roles exactly parallel to and as limited as those of a father confessor or friar.
These are to listen; comfort; guide; empower the accuser; invite and offer forgiveness of the accused, achieve closure and, ideally, remission and prevention of [more] “sins” of those identified or alluded to by the accuser.
In the accusational, there would also be an emphasis on the mental, emotional and spiritual fortification of the accuser against the consequences of alleged past or looming transgressions by the accused against the accuser, the company, society or the world.
In particular, there would be a focus on moral and emotional empowerment of the accuser to take steps outside the accusational to address and prevent transgressions by [if not against], or achieve outright, complete forgiveness of, those accused.
This is exactly analogous to a clerical [in the sense of “church”, not data-entry employee] confessor inspiring a penitent to make changes “out there”, after making positive, personally internal changes induced within the confines of the confessional.
A Lesson From Sex in History
To achieve eternal and external change, start with your internal confiding staff. In fact, that goal of achieving inner changes among staff with outward consequences for others seems to have been a little-known key motivation for the creation of church confessionals.
Historian Gordon Rattray Taylor maintained in his1954 panoramic analysis Sex in History that the confessional was introduced in 1565 by the Council of Valencia as a means of controlling compulsorily celibate friars and priests who were having so many illicit liaisons that the German language acquired a special term identifying the consequences of these couplings: “Pfaffenkind”—“parson’s child”.
“…as priestly marriage was made increasingly difficult, priests were driven to content themselves with simple fornication—to the point where, in Germany, the word Pfaffenkind (parson’s child) was used as a synonym for bastard … So serious did the situation become that in many parishes—at least in Spain and in Switzerland—the parishioners insisted that the priest must have a concubine as a measure of protection for their wives [from seduction and coercion through criminal withholding of absolution].”
The Rules and Goals of the Accusational
Bound by an oath of confidentiality to refrain from disclosing or applying what is revealed to anything outside the “soul” of the accuser and the space of the accusational, the accusation counselor would be constrained by a code even stricter than that of a psychiatrist or monk.
For in addition to doing his or her utmost to maintain strict client confidentiality, the accusational counselor, unlike a psychiatrist or lawyer, would have, at root, only one primary task: catharsis—i.e., providing a space and ear in which the accuser can vent, instilling hope being a bonus.
Nonetheless, there is some fuzziness and debate surrounding the issue of absolute confidentiality and non-intervention in the case of confessional and client-confidentiality—and by extension, in the rules governing and exchanges within accusationals.
Some argue that what is said during a church confession can be reported so long as it does not expose or otherwise implicate the confessing party, e.g., a threat to vandalize the church exposed as a warning to provide safeguards, but not against a specific person and his actions.
Translated into accusational rules, this would mean that the accusation could be reported by the company counselor generically, e.g., reporting that somebody is stealing office pens, but not specifically, by name or other identified, which would allow installation of office-supply locks, but without finger-pointing.
As for threats, there’s the argument that since a threat is not a confession, revealing it to third parties it is not problematic; on the other hand, some see anything said or done in a confessional as utterly confidential. Following the former logic, an accusational counselor should be able to report a threat by either the accuser or the accused.]
Others, taking an even more restrictive stance, disallow even benefiting from the information at no expense to or to the material benefit of both parties in the confessional, e.g., a guilt-ridden inside-trader’s revelation of the stock info he acted on at lunch time.
In an accusational, this would mean that the counselor could not capitalize on the information that the prettiest secretary in the office recently broke up with her boyfriend.
Finally, there may be an acute conflict between secular and ecclesiastical law, with the latter requiring disclosure of past, looming or habitual criminal behaviors, e.g., family abuse or terror plots, with no legal exemption for confessionals. In an accusational, company policy and law may similarly collide.
Clearly, most of these thorny issues of confidentiality are very likely to find their counterparts in the accusational.
A Hands-Off, Arm’s-Length Approach
A hands-off approach means no counselor-initiated interventions regarding the accused, e.g., an overbearing boss or a pilfering colleague. Hence, like a father confessor, in addition to not being a lascivious hustler, the accusational counselor cannot be a spy, a shill, a conflict mediator, negotiator or an informer.
Unlike a lawyer, an accusational counselor would not undertake the task of getting the accused or the accuser off the hook or facilitating getting his hooks into or paws on either of them.
For those concerned about the expense of it all, absent something like a church tithing [10% donation] to cover it, to make the accusational cost-effective, 100% private and fully cathartic, there is one recommendation that would accomplish this in one fell swoop and even eliminate the expense of a counselor.
Make the accusational an empty, padded, soundproof room.