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?