The Cambridge Dictionary defines “Politically Correct” as “Someone who is politically correct believes that language and actions that could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race, should be avoided.” Lessons are given to diplomats, sports person and corporate managers on how to speak, behave and act when they go to another country so as not to offend their hosts. By way of example, criminals are called “unsavoury characters” while “Clumsy” is referred to as “uniquely coordinated”!
The question that is now being asked in various quarters is whether what is politically correct for one group of people is necessarily correct for another?
Paul Krugman wrote that “the big threat to our discourse is right-wing political correctness, which – unlike the liberal version – has lots of power and money behind it. And the goal is very much the kind of thing Orwell tried to convey with his notion of Newspeak: to make it impossible to talk, and possibly even think, about ideas that challenge the established order.”
President Trump is redefining the ways he will engage with world leaders and influential people much to the chagrin of so many politicians, journalists, commentators and those who did not vote for him. His tweet on his forthcoming meeting with the President of Mexico “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting” must have sent shock waves in the diplomatic establishment of USA who are probably used to working through the labyrinthian corridors of diplomacy to set up meetings and where a cancellation of a meeting is deemed to be a diplomatic slap in the face. Why Trump chose to speak to Prime Minister Modi before he spoke to the “more important” leaders of Russia, China, Japan and other European Nations is another example of how he is his own man who will govern the way he chooses to. On the other hand, crude cartoons and statues, insulting posters at rallies and abusive comments against the democratically elected President are telecast over major media channels without for once thinking whether these are politically correct!
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines unabashedly used very flowery undiplomatic words on President Obama and has not shied away from stating his scorn on drug abusers and proudly claiming how he killed people or how he stated “he should have been first” when asked a question on rape. The Philippine law makers shrug off his comments and simply say “Get used to this language”.
Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of the Union Territory of Delhi in India, does not bat an eyelid before he hurls abuses at the democratically elected prime minister of the country or the election commission. He is cheered on by the liberal and intellectual media who would accept such statements from him but not from other political parties. Comments are made by political leaders across parties about religion, economically weaker sections of society and women which are normally frowned upon by most people. Yet no action is taken or is it that no action can be taken given that there will always be a constituency to whom such comments will appeal.
Are these leaders and so many like them around the World saying things that the people want to say themselves but are afraid to for fear of castigation?
For too long the political and media elite have defined the way we should speak and be spoken to. How long will this small group of powerful individuals influence the way we speak and behave. There are no longer any holy cows in dialogue and communication. The mobile phone has changed the way we spell and the social media is changing the way we express ourselves.
With social media empowering the masses, trolling, which hitherto was seen as politically incorrect (exceptions were always made for a few super start journalists), the new age political leaders have understood the importance of “talking” directly to their voters through Twitter and Facebook and there is nothing anyone can do about this.
President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 said “I’m here to tell you that we are going to do those things which need to be done, not because they are politically correct, but because they are right.”
So is the age of being “Politically Correct” over?
Does our right of “Freedom of Speech” conflict with the very definition of political correctness? Should we now be looking at whether the content of the speech is truthful and correct rather than analyse each word spoken for whether it offends some people? Should we fall prey to moral policing of our acts and communication simply because it happens to offend a few people?
If there is an elephant in the room, should we not feel comfortable in talking about it? Should we really suppress our concerns, dreams, worries, feelings, fears, aspirations, hopes and anxieties? Should we stop asking questions about another culture simply because we “may” offend someone?
We are witnessing a paradigm change in the manner in which we will hear our leaders speak in the future. We are seeing a new normal being defined in speech and communication. Let us judge these comments based on the content and not based on who has spoken these and how these comments were delivered.
The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies and the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here – Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.
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