Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

1.12.2010

Only Partially Developed Thought about "Political Correctness"

Unfortunately, this would never happen in politics because there are other agendas. It's hard enough to make happen just in the everyday world. But in my experience most insensitive comments are the result of lack of understanding the best cure is open and honest dialogue. Sharing personal experiences paired with engaged, interested listening.

I'm just thinking about this in relation to the latest flaps making headlines, the Harry Reid and Rod Blagojevich comments about Barack Obama: "I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived," Blagojevich said. "I saw it all growing up." . . . [Reid] once discussed Obama's presidential prospects in terms of his skin color and whether he had a "Negro dialect." These kinds of comments are nothing new, and more often than not they're not intended to be as disparaging and ignorant as they come across, but people get lambasted for them regardless. No, they're not acceptable, but if we just accuse and react instead of addressing what leads to them then nothing will really change.

For a number of years a while back I was an adult volunteer with a youth leadership and diversity program. It intentionally gathered teens from as many backgrounds as possible (race, class, gender, religion, orientation, environment, etc.) and created a safe, confidential, trusting environment for exploring plurality. Through exercises, simulations, and difficult discussions, it challenged the youth to confront their assumptions and ignorances. They shared prejudices and stereotypes, hurt each others feelings, and didn't avoid the issues or attempt to be falsely sensitive. Tears were common. But it all happened within a context of exploration and listening; they saw personal, meaningful reactions and listened to the effects of their attitudes. They saw the other sides of things. It was an ongoing, back-and-forth exchange, and deep, unexpected friendships emerged. My description doesn't do it justice.

But even within that environment, their were variations. When I started, it seemed to me the goal was the environment and exposure to it. No one was forced to change if they didn't want to, as long as they listened and participated honestly. A few years later, though, collecting data and measuring change became important to the planners. It felt like an agenda had worked its way into the program and there was a subtle pressure to achieve the "right" ends, less emphasis on honest growth and authentic engagement. It became, for lack of a better term, more "politically correct."

If we really want people to change and grow we can't have an environment where they are instantly and unforgivably condemned for saying stupid things. They'll just hide their real thoughts and feelings behind a facade. The comments shouldn't just be dismissed, of course. Effects and implications should be shared, some kind of accountability, but demands for resignations aren't helping anyone.

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