When I was growing up, my parents always encouraged me to be honest. Why? Because, I was told, honesty is always the best policy when two or more people communicate. You remember the drill. Yet despite these early-life lessons, my parents lied regularly about everything. And, while these were small lies about someone's fabulous cooking or exceptional fashion sense, they were lies nonetheless. I learned as a youngster that the concept of PC starts early in life, especially when the feelings and emotions of others are at risk. And, that it is never polite to offend, even if being honest is compromised.
Yet our need to be PC with our acquaintances and work colleagues has created obstacles to real open and honest communication between people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures and lifestyles.
During a cross-cultural sensitivity training exercise that I was fortunate enough to facilitate, one participant said he had been labeled anti-Hispanic by his co-workers. He went on to say, "How can I be viewed as anti-Latino or anti-immigrant, (when) I love (Latino) food and culture. I eat tacos." A Latino colleague immediately chimed in and said disapprovingly, "That's racist." And, for the remainder of the training program, both participants withdrew and never uttered another word. Both were hopelessly offended, all because someone wasn't quite PC.
Clearly there are people who believe the first participant's remarks weren't PC. And perhaps they weren't. But I have to ask, couldn't the second participant have handled his response differently? Perhaps his remark wasn't PC either.
Although discourse is always best when all parties are open to differences in culture, thinking and experiences, I hope we can all find ways to foster dialogue and greater cultural understanding by sharing our experiences with others. And, while it is possible that there is more to the story with both of the aforementioned participants, the entire matter could have been handled differently and with a more appropriate outcome. Let's explore.
What if the Latino participant had said, "I'm Latino and not all of us consume tacos. Latinos hail from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. Let me tell you about my experience as a Latino." If not being PC is an issue, I believe we should all find ways to educate others about why we find some terms, expressions, phrases and manners offensive. Labeling someone racist without knowing a thing about the individual's background, experience or point-of-view does little to foster good communication.
When I first started my marketing consultancy, one of the first things I was told is that that the Chinese have two characters in their written language that translate roughly to mean danger or crisis. And since Chinese characters often have multiple meanings, these same two characters, depending on the sentence, also mean opportunity.
So what is the point of all of this? I believe that the answer is simple. In a world of greater diversity and inclusiveness, we should strive to teach others about our cultural uniqueness and experiences, not condemn them so quickly without understanding the context for their statements. Creating or finding a crisis often blinds us in seeing the opportunity for greater dialogue that will promote acceptance and understanding. Perhaps we need to rethink PC and refer to it only as our personal computers. When people are so fearful about offending someone else, honest dialogue is lost -- along with a myriad of opportunities for real cultural understanding.