Political Correctness and Cultural Sensitivity

Sensitivity to others’ needs is good, but living life with good will is better. We should try not to give offense, but also accept that people make mistakes. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.  

Since you cannot have a discussion without first defining what you are talking about, let’s begin with definitions:

Merriam Webster online suggests that Political Correctness means “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.”

Wikipedia suggests that “Cross cultural sensitivity is the quality of being aware and accepting of other cultures. This is important because what is acceptable in some countries can be rude or derogatory in others.”

If political correctness means avoiding language and practices, especially in the realm of sex and race, that could offend others, then as a rule political correctness is a virtue, not a vice. Paul taught his readers in Corinth not to give offense (1 Corinthians 10:32). If cultural sensitivity means being aware of and accepting of other cultures, then cultural sensitivity is also generally a good thing. Businesses and other organizations must be sensitive to the needs and wants of all of their stakeholders. It does no good if, through political pig headedness or disdain for other ways of living an organization alienates its customers, its staff, or its community. The problem arises when political correctness and cultural sensitivity come into conflict with the mission a person or organization is tasked to do.

The mission of the US military is to fight and win the nation’s wars; currently the war in Afghanistan. Offending Afghanis and refusing to understand their culture will not improve the American war effort, just as offending people of other races in our own forces will not improve U.S. success in battle. Insofar as political correctness and cultural sensitivity advance the mission of the military, they are good things.

The mission of business is to provide useful goods and services to their customers, jobs for their employees, and profit for their owners. Saint Paul wanted to avoid giving offense to others and he wanted to be culturally sensitive so that he could better accomplish his mission; sharing the Christian message (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Insofar as political correctness and cultural sensitivity advance the mission of business or religious organizations, they are good things.

This is important in every country, including the United States. Americans of white European and black African descent have diminished as a percentage of the total US population, and American culture has changed in ways that are foolish to ignore.

There comes a time, however, when political correctness harms US military efforts. The refusal of some to call self-proclaimed Islamic terrorists “Islamic” is nothing short of self delusion. It confuses the issues and invites rebuke from those with a better view of reality. Political correctness has also harmed business efforts. Hospitals have hired “cultural personnel” instead of necessary caregivers. They may need interpreters and cultural trainers, but they usually need doctors and nurses more. To compromise the core mission of the organization for the sake of political correctness is wrong; doing more harm than good.

Likewise cultural sensitivity can get in the way of the mission. In the custom of Sati, Hindus in India used to immolate widows on the burial pyres of their husbands. British colonialists stopped that practice in 1829, an excellent example of the virtue of a lack of cultural sensitivity.

As long as the mission is not compromised, political correctness and cultural sensitivity can help the United States better defend its freedoms. When such things become ends in themselves, they hinder soldiers’ ability to keep America free. They also hinder the ability of American businesses, also vital to our national security, to meet the needs of their stakeholders.

Ultimately political correctness and cultural sensitivity are good things, but if allowed to compromise what people and organizations exist for, they diminish everyone’s ability to pursue the life they were created to live.

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