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Is political correctness bad or a chance to be creative?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the South Carolina Tea Party Convention at the Springmaid Beach Resort in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, January 16, 2016 (Credit: AP Photo/Willis Glassgow)Political correctness is like duct tape in this political cycle. Duct tape may be valid in certain situations, but it is often the go-to remedy for all of life's problems. Something broken? Slap some duct tape on it. Something or someone bothering you? Slap some duct tape on them. It tears easily, attaches strongly, and provides temporary relief for life's reminders that we live in a broken world.

Consider the remarks from some presidential candidates. Donald Trump noted to Megan Kelly:

"I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I've been challenged by so many people, and I don't frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn't have time either."

Then there is Ted Cruz, currently leading in the Iowa polls. On the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11, Cruz partially blamed political correctness for those tragic events back in 2001.

"It should be an opportunity to resolve that we will not allow political correctness or complacency to lull us into the same false sense of security that al Qaida exploited fourteen years ago."

Today, we function in a politically correct environment. But what is it? Are these remarks appropriate or are they functioning like duct tape on a flat tire?

This concept was first coined in the 1830s, emerged onto the scene in the early 1970s, but entered the mainstream lexicon in the 1980s. While there are those who lament that it has been defined so many ways that it lacks definition, there are others that would liken it to the wind, knowing it when they felt it.
 
It began as a term that sought to iterate ways in which men were being exploited by the system, specifically the factories in which they worked. In its next phase, it emphasized the correction of the jargon of the day that demeaned people or things. All of this resulted in the term that we know of today, where political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly towards those groups that have been marginalized or oppressed. Focusing on the outer person, political correctness attempts to unify individuals by the avoidance of expressions that exclude, marginalize, or insult.
 
Key to political correctness is the idea of avoidance. Issues and subjects are avoided in order to give the appearance of unity. This lackluster invitation to unity instead leaves them unattended. Reflecting upon the great American experiment, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville acknowledged that America is great not because it is perfect, but because it is good. Part of that goodness is the ability to have conversations so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, "The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
 
George Washington, extending de Tocqueville's thought and elaborating upon the freedom of speech, said, "If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." For better or for worse, the ability to speak freely has the capacity to enlighten us so that our footsteps may move towards better and brighter days, or it may be used to silence voices that could sound as voices of reason and wisdom to redirect our paths. A danger of political correctness is that it sequesters our ability to have the pertinent conversations necessary in order to walk into the fullness and freedom that the American experiment was founded upon.
 
Is political correctness inevitable and undefeatable? Or is it like the Tennessee Titans, somewhat imposing but all talk and no show?  Our we wasting our breath crying against it or sounding our trumpets as we march around it, awaiting its collapse?

A group of researchers out of Cornell University found that political correctness may limit speech, but it can be conducive for creativity. Talking to Think Progress, Jack Goncalo said creativity tended to be the by-product of reducing uncertainty. The prevalence and presence of political correctness provided clear expectations and drew certain lines around the group's conversation. With certain expectations of respect and clear boundaries, these diverse groups produced creative solutions to the problems posed.

Psychologist Nigel Barber calls this type of thinking the "oblique perspective." Intimately acquainted with the familiar, in this instance the limits of political correctness, individuals with an oblique perspective see the world from a fresh viewpoint. This perspective enables them to think outside the proverbial PC box.

Jesus had a certain oblique perspective. When he wasn't saying "You have heard it said, but I say unto you," he was engaging with the lonely on the margins of society. He was the friend of sinners and a thorn to Pharisees. He was not limited to societal standards but bound by the leading of the Spirit. He did not forgo crucial conversations but framed those conversations with questions that attempted to get to the root of the matter.

Instead of fighting against political correctness, maybe we should see it as an opportunity to use our creativity. Unity is a worthwhile goal deserving of our attention, which is the whole point of political correctness. However, political correctness should be a result­ ­of the tenor of our conversations, not a goal in the conversations. There should be less fighting against it and more fighting for unity.

Edmund Burke noted, "Men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters." Hopefully our passions do not become myopic, either for or against political correctness, duct taping us to a chair that keeps us from addressing the issues that ail our great country.

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