My coworker's lunch stinks!
Q. My coworker in the next cubicle brings tuna for lunch every day. By the end of the afternoon, the smell is awful. We don’t have a lunchroom with tables, so that’s not an option. What can I tell her to do?
A.You can’t tell her to do anything. You don’t have the authority. That’s the bad news.
But for Christians, every problem is a potential blessing. The workplace is an incubator for virtue. And this aggravating circumstance gives you a “virtual” opportunity to grow as a person and a professional. As with all challenges, the Lord is with you. He understands. And he wants to help you.
Two virtues are needed. The first is fortitude. You will grow in courage as you take steps to solve the problem. It takes courage to raise an awkward personal issue with a coworker. Taking action in the face of some hazard, to achieve a good, is the first quality of fortitude. It’s called “attack.” And your question suggests you’re ready.
Courage has a second quality – endurance. It’s harder than attack. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, enduring is the principal act of courage, and a strong activity of the soul. We tend to get discouraged and complain when disturbed. So if your attack strategy doesn’t work, you’ll need an increased dose of long-suffering to cheerfully fulfill your professional duties in an odorous atmosphere.
Humility is the second needed virtue. You’re in a tough spot. Your coworker is doing nothing wrong. She has a deeply embedded tuna habit. You labor in a cubicle. Your workplace lacks a lunchroom. And you, a mere mortal, have a lowly body with five senses, one of which is being assaulted.
Consider how you can humbly raise the dilemma with your coworker. You wouldn’t presume to ask her to change her menu, but wonder if she can help you minimize the impact. Tactfully describe the afternoon after-effect on you. Remember that “a gentle tongue is a tree of life.” (Prov. 15:4) If she’s a reasonable person, she’ll want to help.
However, if she’s touchy and defensive by nature, don’t bother. “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you.” (Prov. 9:8) Instead, humbly appeal to your boss. Your productivity is in her best interest and she does have the authority to rectify the situation. Perhaps you could relocate or a lunch area could be designated?
Ultimately, neither of these approaches may work. If the situation is truly insufferable, you may want to seek other employment. “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Prov. 16:3)