Coffin, 11-22-2015

My Word: Let’s take the political out of political correctness

JimCoffin(Orlando Sentinel, November 22, 2015)

By James Coffin

What’s left when we take the politics out of political correctness?

William Shakespeare assured us in his play “Romeo and Juliet” that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

He might equally have said that a thorn by any other name would be just as prickly. Or he could have said that political correctness by any other name would still be political correctness — had he known about political correctness, that is.

I shake my head in wonder when I listen to members of the right-wing anti-PC crowd patting themselves on the back about their refusal to be governed by political correctness.

Who are they kidding? They’re just as slavish in their adherence to political correctness as any die-hard left-winger — it’s just that the political correctness they embrace springs from a different set of presuppositions. But the modus operandi is the same. Being solidly against left-wing political correctness is but one of an array of doctrines of right-wing political correctness.

There’s no more chance that right-wing ideologues are going to risk the ire of their political clique by violating that group’s iron-clad expectations than that those on the left will violate their left-leaning clique’s equally iron-clad expectations.

A political correctness that seeks respect, civility, courtesy, compassion and sensitivity but, because of a misapplication of those very values, discourages addressing vital topics, stifles rational debate and blocks open and honest comment leaves much to be desired.

Conversely, a political correctness that prizes candor, bluntness and forthrightness, but seemingly cares little about the spirit in which the conversation is carried on, likewise leaves much to be desired.

So would it be possible for us to find an agreed-upon form of correctness in which politics plays no part? Is there a better standard to employ in our human relations?

In my interaction with an assortment of faith traditions, I find that all faiths advocate some form of what has often been called the golden rule. Religions may express this principle in slightly different ways. But the essence is always that we should treat others as we’d like to be treated if the tables were turned. And most nonbelievers also acknowledge the wisdom of this truly universal value.

So instead of political correctness, how about making golden-rule correctness the standard for our political dialogue? How about truly taking to heart what the greatest moral teachers of all time have all said?

If William Shakespeare were here, might he remind us that the golden rule by any other name is still the core value we should all adhere to in our public discourse?

James Coffin is the executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.