The Political Incorrectness of Political Correctness

Being politically correct is using language in a way that would not offend other people’s sensibilities. This means that political correctness adheres to racial, gender and political sensitivities. While this is a good way to encouraging unity and harmony within a nation or at a work place, the worry of offending someone or some groups hinders our ability to state our opinions and make correct judgments. This results in unfairness in many situations. Thus instead of discussing issues and dealing with them in an open and honest manner that can bring real change and understanding, we may end up brushing them under the rug. This leads to a hypersensitivity that induces a culture of blame and “witch hunts.”

Political correctness can prevent people from freely speaking their minds, as a result, public conversations may end up becoming muted and real debate withers. When the desire for political correctness trumps truth -telling, important insights are lost in translation. Sometimes, what should have been said ends up feeding an invisible grapevine where people are able to say what they actually feel about point a, b, and c. However, this destroys our trust in leadership and dampens our belief in the common good.

In theory, being politically correct is pretty straightforward: treat people the way they want to be treated. Since we cannot avoid being friendly to others, it is important to learn ways of doing this by not just being overly “nice” and bypassing the truth. People have a right to be told the truth regardless of how sensitive and painful it can be.

An over emphasis on political correctness can lead to an endorsement of rogue leaders with a capacity to speak in “acceptable” ways. Consequently, leaders end up being elected according to how they are able to speak and not how they are able to act. In such a context, a leader’s oratorical skills can be used as a tool to absolve and prevent the public from focusing on their actual responsibility.

However, we can avoid the pitfalls of political correctness by, holding ourselves and others accountable; by saying what we mean and meaning what we say; having a sense of humour, humility and perspective; respecting others and acknowledging their importance; and not being afraid of doing what is right no matter what. With these, moral courage which is an ability to say and act upon the truth becomes an indispensable virtue.

Because it is difficult to say the truth without running the risk of being misinterpreted or misunderstood, political correctness has certainly become the thing it was supposed to get rid of. It has become an obsession with saying the “right” words at the expense of the truth. Regardless of the difficulties of saying what has to be said we are still called upon to address problems that bedevil our country no matter how sensitive.

People are defined by their deeds and actions and not their words. Unfortunately, some of our leaders successfully use political correctness as a way of dodging accountability. The challenge is upon us as a nation to assess our leaders beyond their capacity for eloquence.

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ is interested in Ignatian Spirituality.

g.banda@jesuitinstitute.org.za @gilbertbanda
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