Values and Divisiveness

[This open letter is a composite of a number of posts I sent out to the HRnet and AG-HRnet forums, between July 20 and August 10, 2000, along with a few further refinements. The letter represents my own personal opinions. I feel that my goal, to keep the conversation and exchange at a polite level, was mostly accomplished. I have also included a counter-point to my message, as well as a final point.]

Gregorio Billikopf Encina
University of California

I have been struggling for years with a desire to ask you, my friends in this forum, to consider some sensitive issues with me. To the degree that we can discuss these issues in a spirit of mutual cooperation and understanding, I feel that this post will be a success. If, on the other hand, the post leads to a series of polarized, contentious, name-calling follow-ups, then I will feel that I have failed. We will not all agree with each other, but maybe we can talk.

My concerns have to do with values and divisiveness. As I read about cultural differences and diversity training, I notice that there are inherent values put forth. They seem to be the values of the politically correct movement. I feel I share in many of these values. Despite how far we still have to go, I believe we live in a world where racism, prejudice, and class differences are less pronounced. And that is good. Furthermore, most of us would probably agree that violence, any sort of abuse (physical, verbal, emotional), hatred, unkindness, lack of consideration, are not acceptable ways to solve our differences. I feel that all individuals have the right to be treated with dignity, kindness and consideration.

But I do not believe all that the politically correct doctrine teaches us. The movement seems to espouse a view of complete inclusiveness, where acceptance of lifestyle choices is more important than any other consideration. I find such a doctrine oppressive. First, it is my view that we are living in a time where increasingly there are those who are not ashamed to "call evil good, and good evil." Second, and perhaps more important, because these values are put forth as proper ethics, with the force equivalent to religious dogma, and ironically, in such a way that there seems to be little tolerance for another way of looking at life.

So why, I ask, is it that the ethics of one religion--in this case the religion of the politically correct thought--is given more importance than the ethics of another? If someone holds a belief towards any principle and does so privately, or within a cultural or religious setting, that is fine. It is even acceptable to share those beliefs with others--as long as they are not forced on them. Furthermore, as a society we have to agree on certain basic behaviors, or there would be anarchy. However, when it comes to prescribing BELIEF, then we are in dangerous territory.

Separation between Church and State is for mutual protection. When the State passes laws, these need to be obeyed. But in the case of the politically correct doctrine, we have moved past talking about acceptable behavior, into acceptable belief. That belief becomes the "religion of the state" and should not be imposed on others, any more than any religion or culture can or should be imposed on others.

In diversity training there is recognition that individuals come from different cultures and religious backgrounds, yet it seems it is often merely lip service. So we acknowledge that someone may be Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist, for instance, or that an individual may come from Japan, Ethiopia, Uganda, or Bolivia. But do we have any idea that some of the values presented in diversity training or a politically correct world may fly totally contrary to the cultural background or values of such people?

Some individuals are more comfortable in a world of relativism in terms of religion, morality and culture. Others believe in the existence of absolute truth. Relativists are often concerned with complete equality and feel that individuals are the ultimate determiners of that truth. Those who believe in the existence of absolute truth often claim an unchanging standard, one not of their own making, and certainly not one that is up for a vote.

In summary, I believe in good manners, caring and respectful communication. I realize that when we all live together, we must find ways of behaving that do not impose our values on others. I realize that the values held by any group, if imposed upon another, can create oppressive feelings. I do not ask that my cultural and religious values, or any other sort of values, be given more importance, just a recognition that they exist. Right now, from what I have seen in diversity training, I have yet to see this deeper level recognition. There are times when being quiet and holding our peace is better than speaking out. But how often do we find ourselves censoring our own speech when perhaps we should speak out? Has the politically correct thought become ethical absolutism?


Gregorio, I know you as an honest and sincere person, probably as much committed to diversity issues as anyone around. When I read your message it struck me as an "inkblot," vague enough that it would draw out people with different views because they could agree with you even though your position is not clear. Or, I thought it might be a deliberate troll, an attempt to draw out people. I still don't know.

I'm disappointed that someone like yourself, steeped in at least several cultures would use the term P.C. without defining it at all. Without that definition, (and examples), its inflammatory, an empty term used as a rallying point for people who would rather be able to say and do what they want, without consequences.

I'll tell you what I think this is: We have moved into an era where new norms are emerging (this has certainly been occurring since the 60's). Those norms relate to cessation of discrimination, harassment on the basis of group membership, consideration of other's feelings, etc. Part of that process is extending the spirit of, for example, your constitution, into law which is far more specific than it ever was.

However, prejudice, hatred, on the basis of group is deeply entrenched in both society and individual psychology, and as a result many people resent this shifting of norms, and what they see as restrictions on their freedom to offend or hate. Hence the term P.C. to demean those efforts, to belittle it, behind a vague, often meaningless term.

Because, in fact P.C. depends on where you stand. White PC complainers want the world according to their values (kind of an implicit PC that they don't recognize). It's what they are used to. But they are the first to complain when someone acts in ways inconsistent with their values.

There's an irony here, a layering of PC. It's almost become PC to attack PC.

A final point
Gary Lear
Resource Development Systems

Past injustices have caused some to rise up against these. But when those who rise up against injustices begin to create their own injustices, they begin to hurt their own causes. You don't fight being unbalanced with being more unbalanced. You only fight it by being balanced. Many see the current so-called "PC" movement as going overboard in their actions, becoming as unbalanced as those they started out to fight, forcing their views of tolerance, sameness, or what have you on others, instead of showing the tolerance that they seem to preach, no matter what side of the value spectrum they may be from.

So often in training we talk about "thinking outside the box." But if we are wanting everyone to think the same, then how can this be done? While we may not always agree with other's ideas and view points, it is often how we "disagree" with them that is the stifling component. When we disagree, do we still encourage the other person's creative thinking? Or do we stifle it? Do we show them respect as an individual, or do we put them down for not being "part of the group?"

It seems to me that those people who are not comfortable with their own selves and who they are and what their beliefs are, are the ones who most adamantly try to convince others that they are wrong. All are trying to force their views on others, often with anger and hatred. Instead of living their own values, they are trying to force their values on others to live.

I have my own beliefs. They are mine. And I don't really care if others subscribe to them or not. While I may share my views with others, they are free to take or not take from them what they will. And I remain free to take what I want from their views and then blow the rest away with a breath of kindness. But it is not for me to try to tell the other person they are wrong. Right and wrong are part of the same circle: where one begins, the other one ends; and often the beginnings and ends are blurred. And no matter what that person's beliefs are, they must still be shown some respect for just being.

© 2000 by The Regents of the University of California and Gregorio Billikopf
Agricultural Extension, Stanislaus County. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher and the author. Printing this electronic Web page is permitted for personal, non-commercial use as long as the author and the University of California are credited.

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15 November 2004