In the midst of the controversy around Shirley Sherrod I read an interesting comment in USA Today saying the “case reflects an enduring anxiety over race.” I can’t disagree with that, but I don’t intend to address that nor the rush to conclusions and resulting fallout around Ms. Sherrod.
I will instead suggest that there is a greater–and perhaps increasing–anxiety than that of race, or politics, or gender or sexual orientation, and that is about how we communicate about these things. Do you ever feel like you’d like to join the dialogue but hesitate for fear that what you say or how you say it will be judged wrong or inappropriate? I do. I admit an increasing anxiety over the fear that the content of my communication will be completely missed in this odd age when even having an idea different from the politically correct can cause one to be labeled or shouted down without any consideration.
Certainly there ideas that can be judged “wrong:” incorrect, inaccurate, falsehoods or hate mongering. Obviously, these are not the ideas I’m writing about.
I’m writing about something I’ve observed and commented on before: those who disagree with an idea have found an effective means for squelching that idea is to quickly move in into the realm of political incorrectness (and I recognize that is a dated but still useful term for describing the situation).
You may not agree with an idea, but that makes it different, not wrong. It is a cheap shot to attack the communicator of the idea rather than addressing the idea itself.
Leaders need to be sensitive and careful about how they construct and present ideas. Even then, there are no guarantees that those ideas will be heard with the respect and consideration they deserve. That, however, should not dissuade a leader from trying.
Let’s all be a little more accepting of the ideas of others, even when we disagree. Otherwise the anxiety over trying to communicate will block any hope of dialogue around the tough issues of public life.