Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi

IN EXILE

August 31,2015

Just because something is politically correct doesn't mean that it might not also be correct. Sometimes we have to swallow hard to accept truth.

Some years ago, I served on a priests' council, an advisory board to the bishop in a Roman Catholic diocese. The bishop, while strongly conservative by temperament, was a deeply principled man who did not let his natural temperament or spontaneous feelings dictate his decisions. His decisions he made on principle, and sometimes that meant he had to swallow hard.

At one point, for example, he found himself under strong pressure to raise the salaries of lay employees in the diocese. The pressure was coming from a vocal group of social justice advocates who were quoting the Church's social doctrines in the face of protests that the diocese could not afford to pay the kind of wages they were demanding.

Their cause also leaned on political correctness. This didn't make things easy for the bishop, given his conservative temperament and conservative friends.

But he was, as I said, a man of principle. He came one morning to the priests' council and asked the priests to give him a mandate to give the diocesan employees the wage increase they were demanding. The priests' council told him that they would not bow to political correctness and voted against it.

A month later, the bishop came back to the priest's council and again asked the priests for their support, prefacing his request by telling the priests that, should they vote against it again, he would do it on his own, invoking executive privilege.

PRIESTLY CHALLENGE

One of the priests, a close personal friend of his, said: "You're only asking us to do this because it's politically correct."

The bishop answered him: "No, we're not doing this because it's politically correct. We're doing it because it is correct. We can't preach the Gospel with integrity if we don't live it out ourselves.

"We need to pay a living wage because that's what the Gospel and Catholic social doctrine demands - not because it's politically correct."

In saying this, the bishop was swallowing hard, swallowing his own temperament, swallowing his friend's irritation, and swallowing his own irritation at having to bow to something that was presented as politically correct. But principle trumped feeling.

So often, when something comes at us with the label that this must be accepted because it is politically correct, our spontaneous reaction is negative. We are tempted, out of emotional spite, to reject it simply because of the cloak it's wearing and the voices who are advocating for it.

I've had my own share of experiences with this, in dealing with my emotions in the face of political correctness. Teaching in some pretty sensitive classrooms through the years, where sometimes every word is a potential landmine that might blow up in your face, it's easy to fall into an unhealthy sensitivity fatigue.

I remember once, frustrated with the hypersensitivity of some students (and the pompousness evident inside that sensitivity), I told a student to "lighten up." He immediately accused me of being a racist on the basis of that remark.

It's easy then to react with spite rather than empathy.

TRUTH COMES CLOAKED

But, like the bishop, whose story I cited previously, we need to be principled and mature enough to not let emotion and temperament sway our perspective and our decisions. Just because a truth comes cloaked in political correctness and we hear it voiced in self-righteousness, doesn't necessarily mean it isn't the truth.

Sometimes we just have to swallow hard, eat our pride and irritation, and accept the truth of what is being presented. Political correctness is normally irritating, exaggerated, unbalanced, pompous and lacking in nuance, but it serves an important purpose.

CRITICAL MIRROR

We need this mirror: How we spontaneously speak about others flushes out a lot of our blind spots.

Among other things, political correctness, as a check on our language, helps keep civil discourse civil, something in short supply today. Talk radio, cable television, blogs, tweets and editorials are today more and more being characterized by a language that's rude, insensitive and flat-out disrespectful.

Disdain for political correctness is, ironically, the strongest argument for political correctness. Politics, church and community at every level today need to be more careful about language, careful about being politically correct, because the violence in our culture mirrors the violence in our language.

Attentiveness to language helps in the long-term to shape our interior attitudes and widen our empathy. Words work strongly to shape attitudes and if we allow our words to chip away at elementary courtesy and respect and allow them to offend others, we help spawn a culture of disrespect.

Both liberals and conservatives help dictate it and both can be equally self-righteous and bullying. Sometimes we just need to swallow hard and accept the truth.

(Website: www.ronrolheiser.com)