Have you followed the news story about Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s apology for blackening his face as part of an Arabian Nights costume some years ago?
He’s been criticised for invoking racist and offensive stereotypes that signal to people of colour that they are second-class citizens.
I have never understood the need for racial slurs. To my mind all people are worthy simply because they are human – and that applies to all life forms: I’d like to see all humans, animals and the Earth itself treated with respect. But something that troubles me about Trudeau’s apology is the increasing weight of political correctness.
When we can never be either playful or critical because of the fear of offending, we move into dangerous territory.
We are seeing this increased sensitivity in more and more areas, and the danger lies in something called ‘concept creep’, where an idea gradually morphs into something else, and we end up with people being attacked (even physically, or losing their jobs) simply for expressing unpopular ideas.
Physical safety has always been a consideration on university campuses, and violence was understood to mean physical violence, but now universities are increasingly being required to look after the ‘emotional safety’ of their students to the point that speakers on confronting topics (such as rape) might not be welcome or allowed because today (on some campuses) even ideas are considered violent. In fact, some speakers at universities are being ‘disinvited’ because their message might make some of the audience feel uncomfortable.
The Coddling of The American Mind – How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt is an eye-opening read about this trend, and while their book is no doubt subject to biases and blindspots of its own, it’s garnered a pretty strong following and many heartfelt endorsements from those in that arena.
This powerful and shocking book offers a ‘thin edge of the wedge’ warning: if we lose the key democratic freedom of speech, we are sliding in the direction of totalitarian regimes. These trends where certain conversations are forbidden offer a critical warning flag. The Coddling of the American Mind also makes a strong argument for the how and why of many Western social ‘ailments’. Here are a few snippets:
- Erika Christakis, a lecturer at the Yale Child Study Centre and associate master of one of Yale’s residential colleges, worries that ‘the growing tendency to cultivate vulnerability in students carries unacknowledged costs’.
She made this comment in response to guidance from Yale administrators regarding what sort of costuming was suitable for Halloween. (See the link with the Trudeau story above, and my comment: ‘When we can never be either playful or critical because of the fear of offending, we move into dangerous territory’ – territory that risks sliding into totalitarianism.)
Authors Haidt and Lukianoff argue that we need to be encouraging resilience and tolerance rather than protectionism and ‘safetyism’, two buzz words of this era. As Susan H McDaniel, professor and former president of the American Psychological Society, states:
- ‘Children must be challenged and exposed to stressors – including different perspectives – in order to thrive.’
Progressive activist Van Jones says:
- ‘I don’t want you to be safe ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I’m not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots and learnt how to deal with adversity. I’m not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that’s the whole point of the gym. This is the gym.’
It does feel uncomfortable to be in the minority, and often it is downright dangerous, so let’s create a culture that encourages resilience and open-mindedness rather than fearfulness, defensiveness and aggression.
As ever, such skills need to be practised; they don’t fall out of a clear blue sky.
My proposed program, ‘Let’s Bully On Purpose In Schools’ was conceived precisely for this reason. Let’s help our children ‘skill up’ rather than trying to eliminate all threats and dangers – a futile undertaking if there ever was one.
- I invite you to download my free report: ‘Let’s Bully On Purpose in Schools’, which proposes that schools prioritise communication and conflict resolution skills as a core curriculum subject for all students across their schooling years;
- Consider The Mastery Club® book and 10-week program, which promotes the character traits of patience, resilience and focus, and encourages young people to support and challenge each other in the process of achieving their goals;
- Donate copies of Quest For Riches to your school, a novel that builds financial intelligence so that more people manage their finances better and are less likely to experience the stresses of financial hardship.
- Tell me what you think in the comments area!
Photo courtesy Pexels, by Ashutosh.