Political Correctness

Political Correctness by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

The newspapers (printed and online) have been full of challenging news this week, the same as nearly every week I can remember. In fact, nearly every day of every week there is “news.” Tragedies. Natural disasters. War. Homicides. Fraud. Yes, there are stories of peace and goodwill, but they often seem buried in the news.

For those of you living in the US or who follow US politics (which is most of the world), you know we’ve just completed a presidential campaign. You probably also know a thing or two about politics even though you’ve never held an elected office. I’ll be you even know something about being politically correct first-hand.

You know that garbage men are now sanitation engineers because we didn’t want to hurt their self-esteem. You know that it’s politically correct to ignore the data that supports profiling. You know that no one fails anymore, they just haven’t succeeded yet. You know that some schools are moving away from scores because it’s not politically correct to have winners and losers, to have a distribution of grades. To have someone pass while another fails.

This brief article will not zero in on my own personal hot buttons relative to political correctness. Rather I just want to highlight the folly and challenge you to take a stand when needed and risk being politically incorrect. Why? Because you and your organization will be better because of it.

All world-class organizations I know use data and data analysis in decision-making. They have analysts and engineers who went to the best schools in the world pouring through data warehouses and spreadsheets, making calculations, drawing inferences, looking for patters, trying to make sense of the world at large.

Yet when the the CEO or Chairman or VP or Director or first-level supervisor or entry-level employee, draws a conclusion that is not politically correct, they’re expected to keep it to themselves. To put a hand over their mouth. In the name of peace and diversity and brotherhood and humanity, we’re asked (told really) to keep it “nice.” Don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Don’t draw attention (especially negative) to anyone or a particular group or ideology. Instead, we’re taught to spin the data, the story, in a way that leaves everyone feeling ok.

The problem with this obtuse communication is that half the people (or more) don’t understand what PC leader is trying to communicate. What did he say? What did he mean by that? What does he value? What is the organization’s stance? What does our leader truly believe?

Ever listen to a political debate and scratch your head because you weren’t sure what was said and what the candidates believe? Ever lose respect for a leader because he wouldn’t state the obvious? Even if it’s unpopular, the truth is still the truth (and all its shades – I get that).

Yet to be effective, organizations need to encourage open, honest dialogue. It’s ok to have different points of view and to share them, to debate them, to end up with a different conclusion. It’s not ok to avoid the conversation, to avoid the debate, to insist on political correctness.

Think for a minute about the waste, the loss to society, caused by political correctness. It’s hard to solve a problem that you’re not willing to define. It’s hard to move forward and make progress when you won’t define right and wrong, pass and fail, good and not good, satisfactory and unsatisfactory.

I’d like to encourage you to take stand on important topics, to be willing to be politically incorrect when necessary. If you lose something as a result of telling the truth, so what. What’s the alternative? Avoid telling the truth so you don’t lose anything? This is what many are doing today with negative impacts on organizations and people all over the world.

Please bear in mind that I’m NOT saying ignore tact, diplomacy, discretion, etc. In fact, I’ve written several articles on the importance of words and word choice. And there is often a “right” way to say something. To let someone down easily. Word choice is important. So is timing. So are other factors. What I am saying is when your heart tells you something is wrong or the data indicate a clear “picture” – don’t be afraid to take a stand.

Can I tell you one of my least favorite scenarios? When the leader of an organization (government body, corporation, academic institute, NGO, etc.) gives their point-of-view, and then negatively reacts when someone differs. At least have the decency to let multiple points-of-view be heard. Many who advocate political correctness do so after their voice has been heard. Ever notice that?

As I looked at the cut flowers in the windows I was reminded to peace, harmony, and tranquility. There is a place in the world for such – and I love it! There is also a place for difference and calling a spade a spade, for frank conversation, and for taking the bubble-wrap off our egos.

Do you filter too much? Are you obtuse in your communication with others due to the chains of political correctness? How do you communicate a politically incorrect message with love?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

2 thoughts on “Political Correctness

  1. Robert, Just this past week, someone tried to kidnap an eight-year old off the street. Luckily she escaped. The news media gave many details abut the color and make of the escape vehicle, the length of hair, the color of his clothes, etc. But not once did anyone mention whether he was white, Hispanic, or African American. We would rather be politically correct than save the lives of children. It is cowardly and shameful.

    • Greg – disappointed but not surprised. Yes, you would think a detail like this would be helpful but in the name of political correctness, we purposefully omit it. … On a different note, think how refreshing it would be if people (especially those in public positions of leadership, including political candidates) didn’t spin everthing. I’m often left wondering if I really know what a person truly stands for and believes because they hide behind “PC-speak.” This is applicable in all organizational settings.

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