I met Chelsea two months ago when I started my job at the Starbucks Corporate office in Seattle. What I appreciate about the culture of this company is that everyone is encouraged to be themselves when they come to work and because of that, people love working here. There's a beautiful integration of getting the job done and living a life fulfilled.
Chelsea and I got to know each other by the light of multiple computer screens, me drinking from a firehose of knowledge while she trained me on all the things. One of the topics I've been cautious about bringing up is "what I do for fun outside of the office" because, Spiritual Writer. Talking beliefs, religious or otherwise, is a sensitive, personal subject, especially with co-workers, and generally best avoided. I know this. I worked in Corporate America prior to Starbucks for 13 years, but I was also a pastor's wife for the past nine. So this is part of who I am - someone who wants to do great work, but also someone wants to know people and be known - and if I'm going to work here, and be myself, then beliefs are likely to come up in conversation.
One afternoon over coffee, Chelsea and I ventured slowly into the waters of politics, feminism, religion, and found ourselves swimming deep in family history and personal revelations. I'm not one for small talk, so I got right to the point, inviting her to be featured on this little blog I have. Without hesitation, she said yes.
Chelsea, I've learned, is a wonderful advocate and supporter to have in your corner; a strong woman who voices her opinions and seeks understanding over judgment. She may also have a picture of herself with Jean-Luc Picard on display at her desk. So there's that.
Responses by Chelsea Cooper
What do you believe, and why?
I’ve never believed in a sentient higher power. Part of it is that I wasn’t raised to believe it, but I could never get past the idea that a creator could be both omnipotent and kind. I also didn’t like that only good things are attributed to God, while bad things are attributed to humanity or the devil.
What I believe in is people. I truly believe that if enough good people come together, you can overcome anything. Everyone struggles with self interest and other “evil” tendencies, but in the end, I believe that the majority of people want to do good in the world. It gets interesting when we disagree about what “good” actually looks like, but that’s what I believe. I can see and hear and touch individual people trying to make the world better and I’d much rather put my faith in them than an unseen entity.
How did you discover your beliefs?
I was raised an atheist, but had several very religious friends. I went through a few phases where I wanted to convert to a religion, once to Christianity and once to Judaism, but neither one actually came to fruition. I realized that I was looking for a place where I could be around like-minded people and come together in an organized way to do good in the world, but quickly learned that I didn’t need religion for that. I wound up getting involved in politics and volunteer work instead. There was never an “ah ha” moment for me, but an ongoing interest in people and what makes them tick. Then I majored in Sociology in college and my interest in people reached a new level.
I wrote my senior thesis on a founder of sociology named Emile Durkheim. He wrote a book called The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life where he studied non-technological communities and their religious practices. He essentially concluded that religion had very little to do with God and everything to do with people. We as humans divide the world into the sacred (i.e. associated with the divine, like church or Sundays in Christianity) and the profane (i.e. the mundane everyday parts of our lives, like having to go to work and do chores) so that when we come together to celebrate the sacred, we can experience something called “collective effervescence,” which is the feeling of being part of something larger than yourself. Many people get this feeling at church, but I decided to go a different way with my research. I studied Star Trek conventions and found evidence in the data that people attended these conventions for similar reasons to those given by religious followers in Durkheim’s research. It was an interesting thesis to be sure.
So there was no big moment for me, it’s just been a gradual evolution of belief.
How do you interact with your beliefs?
I do my best to live my values every day. I try to be helpful to those around me and I work to understand others before judging them. I volunteer, though not as much as I’d like to ideally. I often defend those that I don’t agree with, just to remind others that they are still people and have their own motivations. I’ve chosen a romantic partner that shares my optimistic view of human nature. I don’t attend church or anything, so for me it’s more in how I act toward others.
What do you do when you doubt your beliefs?
This is one I’ve been really struggling with lately. In the past, I’ve always followed the Mr. Rogers model, which is to look for the helpers. Anytime there is a disaster, nature-made or man-made, if you look, you can always find the people running toward the disaster to help others. They are always there. They usually aren’t covered by the news, but they are always there. That would always give me hope, even in the darkest of times.
Lately, I’ve been shaken to a deeper level than I have before, particularly by this election cycle. I genuinely believed that many of the things Donald Trump was saying would disqualify him as a leader to a majority of people, but what I found was that many people acted in their own self-interest, rather than the interest of the community as a whole. That includes liberals who refused to vote for Hillary Clinton after Bernie Sanders lost the primary. It’s not that I think everyone who put Trump in office are bad people, but I didn’t realize how many people wouldn’t consider overt racism a deal breaker. It’s not that they hate homosexuals, immigrants, etc, but they didn’t think or care about them enough to consider what a Trump presidency would mean for those groups. This has definitely been the greatest hit to my spiritual beliefs so far.
Truthfully, I’m still piecing together how I’m going to move forward and I don’t really have an answer for this question right now. All I can do is take as much personal action as I can and be kind to everyone in my life, from homeless person on the street to vocal Trump supporter. Maybe if I fake it, the faith will eventually come back.
To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.