Saturday, March 12, 2011

Vol #2, Col #3: PC…How’s About We Change it to “Polite Candidness”?

A few summers ago while on vacation with my mom, I attended a feminist-oriented executive women’s business club meeting. While the evening’s programming, special guest speaker, and food were most agreeable, I couldn’t help but raise a brow to the events that unfolded during the introductory segment.

Like any typical businesspersons’ gathering, after a brief mingling period, the event’s facilitator proceeded to take charge, going around the room asking each and every individual to introduce herself and list her occupation. Now this activity was all well and good, and at first, “business” seemed “as usual”. BUT after several of these brief personal overtures, something started to strike me as very odd: THE APPLAUSE (and NO the vast majority of the attendees were NOT social goodwill ambassadors! Quite the opposite really…real estate agents and bankers).

While I’m all for honouring the rules of decorum, and in fact agree that using euphemisms or the “compliment” then “constructively criticize” technique is often necessary (oh we humans are so so sensitive), when we have to praise people simply for standing up and stating their names/occupation, I gotta say perhaps we’ve taken “political correctedness” a tad too far.

At one point during these “Hello how are yous?” the facilitator actually had to step in, demanding that the applause ceased as it was eating away too much at the time devoted to the guest speaker! 
Although Jerry Seinfeld pointed out in one of his most notable 90s monologues that apparently the average American is more afraid of speaking in public than dying (YES dying, you read correctly), I find it hard to believe that anyone could be successful in the business world without such an ability, and therefore beyond the fact that this seemed overly and unnecessarily polite, I question the grounds on which someone (well actually many persons) felt that clapping was necessary in this circumstance?

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like we’ve gotten a little too comfortable with the idea of receiving gratuitous praise for everything, including menial seemingly “idiot-proof” tasks. Like honestly, what’s going to be next? Should I shake your hand because you can successfully make your bed and brush your teeth at the age of 25? Or maybe it’ll be considered an accomplishment to be able to spell one’s own name correctly at 30? I mean it’s getting to the point wherein if you have to confront and/or criticize a co-worker, or peer at school (at least in my experience), you basically have to “baby talk” to them as though you’re a preschool teacher in order to protect their tender egos.

Somewhere along the lines, we either set the bar REALLY low or coddled each other to such an extend that the average person’s self-esteem is entirely contingent on receiving well-regard from others. To the latter statement, I have only one piece of advice: grow a backbone.

I won’t lie, I just as much as the next person don’t like receiving negative feedback on my work as I put my heart and soul into everything I do, and so when I’m criticized it’s hard not to take it personally. However, I’m not so fragile that I consider standing up and merely stating who I am worthy of acclamation.

Perhaps the mixed messages we received in childhood, however, are partly to blame. I mean, which is it: Is honesty truly the best policy OR is it better to say nothing at all if you have nothing nice to say?

While I’m one who tends to (with few exceptions) “walk on the wild side” in support of the former, I tell you in truth, “facing the music has” has been nothing but a lonely road (and yes my overuse of euphemisms was entirely deliberate there – aren’t I clever? Oh wait, I forgot I don’t need my ego constantly stroked to know I’ve got a reasonable amount of intelligence...but flattery from my man? Well, that’s certainly nice upon occasion).