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Stamping Out Political Correctness

| | Leading Organizations

In an excellent post on Leadership and Political Correctness, Mike Myatt of N2Growth discusses the debilitating phenomena of political correctness that has unfortunately, as he puts it, “become a dominant mind-set in our society”.  In this post he posed the following question:

Do you ever wonder how the term “Politically Correct” evolved from an obscure catch-phrase that was once used to label those who would not take a controversial position to the dominant mind-set of the day in our society?”

He goes on to make this sobering observation:

“The politically correct assault has invaded classrooms, the media, the work place, federal, state and local government, the judiciary, the church, the military, and even casual discussions with friends and family. It has spread to pandemic proportions, crossing boarders and cultures, such that you’d be hard pressed to actually find someone under the age of 40 who hasn’t had substantial amounts of “diversity training”. Even the term change, a concept once reserved for the innovative and revolutionary, has been hi-jacked by the politically correct.”

As hard as so many people have fought for and continue to fight for freedom of speech around the world, it is disheartening to say the least that we have actually become a culture that squelches it’s own voice.

Speaking up can be risky business.   It always has been.  Many people have lost their lives both because they spoke against those in power as well in the fight for the right to speak freely.  And for many that fight is not over.

As I thought about Mike’s words I realized that every time I choose not to speak up I dishonor those who fought for my right to do so.  For me that was a pretty humbling thought.  I started to take an inventory of the times I can clearly remember when I have, as well as when I have not, spoken up and/or spoken my truth.

Here are the patterns I could see in reflecting on my choices and experience in those moments:

1.  My fear drove every decision I made not to speak up.

In those moments when we must choose between speaking our truth and speaking to protect our position or stay in someone’s good graces we are likely to feel fear.  That fear is natural and can be incredibly strong.  It can feel like our very survival is at stake, whether we are putting our lives or our livelihoods at stake or even a relationship or sense of belonging.  And it is really easy to justify choosing from our fear in our own minds.  It is also easy to get others to agree with us that we should be afraid and were “smart” to refrain.  Agreement makes all involved feel better and even more justified in their choices which I believe is part of the dynamic that keeps us stuck in the practice of political correctness.

2.  The consequences of not speaking up were often the same as those I feared from speaking up.

Some of the things I have feared are hurting someone, harming a relationship, losing face, feeling stupid, being excluded, and being disliked.  I have also at times feared falling out of favor, losing my job, upsetting a client, and losing a contract.  Yet there are a few times I could identify that by not speaking up I actually experienced one or more of these outcomes.  Acting from our fears does not always protect us from what we fear.

3.  When I did speak up I felt afraid, but did it anyway and felt empowered regardless of the outcome.

Every time I spoke up I was satisfied with the outcome even if it wasn’t the outcome I wanted.  It is incredibly empowering to act in spite of your fear in service of your beliefs and what you truly care about.

4.  Every time I spoke up and/or spoke my truth I made a difference for someone.

Sometimes  I gave a voice to the opinions and feelings of others who wanted to speak, but felt they would not be heard.  Sometimes I simply paved the way for others to speak their truth.  At times I pissed people off in the moment, but was thanked later.  There are a very small number of times where speaking my truth caused a breakdown in a relationship.  And there were times when my speaking up seemed to make no difference at all.  Yet every time it made a difference in fortifying my own self esteem.

The question to ask ourselves in those moments is this:  am I going to let fear drive my actions or my commitments? Am I going to let fear drive what I say or even whether I speak up at all, or will I choose to speak my truth in the service of my commitments and the commitments I share with those around me?

We have lapsed into a habit of colluding for the sake of our mutual safety rather than challenging each other for the sake of being great.  The cost of this habit is high to us as individuals, to our organizations, and to society as Mike points out so eloquently.

What do you think it will take to stamp out our habit of being politically correct?   What habits can we instill instead that will fuel us in being the best we can be?

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Enter A Comment

Doug Shaw   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

Well said Susan! Nice article, an enjoyable and powerful reminder to be….authentic. Cheers – Doug

Susan Mazza   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

Thanks for your kind words Doug. I appreciate you stopping by.

Frenchie   |   12 August 2014   |  

Check that off the list of things I was cosefnud about.

Mike Myatt   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

Hi Susan:

Thank you for the mention above, but what I really want to thank you for is picking-up the ball and running with it. What I hope for in each post is to not only entice people to think, but to have them improve and add value in the process. Your post takes my rant and turns the subject into a blueprint for actionable steps in making a difference.

Sometimes the truth is difficult to swallow, but when you realize that your silence is often interpreted as defacto acceptance by others, that is also the point at which I hope you begin to realize how much your voice matters.

Great post Susan…

Susan Mazza   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

My pleasure Mike. Thank you for stopping by. I always appreciate how your posts and the often rich conversations on your blog challenge my thinking and inspire me to dig deeper.

Joe Williams   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

Bravo Susan! Although the topic is about political correctness, I see the theme as overcoming fear. We all have fears – and I do too – and it’s our ability to recognize and counteract fear that leads to a greater sense of accomplishment and well-being. Now, it’s time for me to address a few of my own… 🙂

Mike Henry Sr.   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

What will it take? Remembering that nothing worthwhile is ever easy. I think of your #3 above, courage comes from knowing what you want. If you really want to serve people and impact them for good, then you’ll speak up. But the challenge exists over and over (and over) because the ways we can serve are limitless and our natural tendencies are to focus on and serve ourselves.

Susan Mazza   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

“Courage comes from knowing what you want” – well said Mike.

Bret Simmons   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

Every time I speak I am keenly aware that in the room there are likely several “mindguards” present. They can only see the world through their political lenses and evaluate anything and everything that is said based on whether is conforms to the approved party rhetoric. I see it more and more in my classrooms, and it’s troubling.

One of the things I often do now when I speak is start with a few “disclaimers.” One of the things I tell folks is I am not here to tickle your ears, to tell you what you think you want to hear. My loyalty is to my profession and to myself as a professional. I try to wrap contemporary leadership philosophy around cutting edge research, and not the other way around.

Thanks! Bret

Susan Mazza   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

That is a great practice Bret. Preparing people by setting context for your communication. That works well whatever the communication may be, especially when you know what people are already expecting/wanting/hoping you to say.

That you see these “mindgaurds” more and more in your classrooms is indeed troubling. I a left wondering what it is they are protecting.

Susan Mazza   |   18 August 2010   |   Reply

Definitely Joe. I think the challenge when it comes to political correctness is that we are not only having to overcome individual fears, but rather the exponential effect of collective fear. Yet it can take only one courageous individual to cause change. I have a feeling you are one of those people.

Paul (@minutrition) McConaughy   |   21 August 2010   |   Reply

A thoughtful and thought provoking post. Thanks Susan and Mike. It occurred to me that one of the most common times when I edit myself is when I Tweet. But we do it everywhere…to the point that it has made a mockery of “freedom of speech”. Speech in the US is so tightly controlled by political correctness that honesty has been driven underground. There are dozens of filters that anything I say has to go through before it is “presented”. I think it is the explanation behind the fact that we no longer have much “reasoned discourse” just backstabbing and grandstanding. I wish I had an answer. I do think this is one of the most critical challenges to our way of life that there is.

Susan Mazza   |   23 August 2010   |   Reply

I can appreciate your comment about editing yourself when tweeting. When I first started tweeting and commenting on blog posts before I was even ready to blog I would spend a ridiculous amount of time on just a few words. I did not want to say something “stupid” in such a vast public arena.

You point that “we no longer have much “reasoned discourse” just backstabbing and grandstanding’ is well put. It is more commonplace and unfortunately accepted to judge and attack people rather than their ideas. In reading your comment it occurs to me that political correctness is perhaps more of a survival strategy than a how to get ahead strategy these days.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment Paul.