Being Too Politically Correct Can Stifle Reality

When I worked in the corporate world, some of my fellow coworkers told me I reminded them of Patch Adams, from a 1998 movie they saw starring Robin Williams.

Robin Williams and Patch Adams

Well, I went to see the film. It’s about a real doctor, Hunter D. Adams who is defined as an “American physician, comedian, social activist, clown and author.”

Except for the physician part, I could identify with what my colleagues meant when we made our serious work fun, productive and “a touch theatrical.”

Often, I was called upon to produce skits, stagecraft or dramatic presenations around Texas, for various speeches, conferences and meetings. In competition, we always won.

I even had my own segment on HEB-TV, a monthly 30 minute production shown to all 100,000+ employees. The employee newsletter’s back page was reserved for my writings and teachings.

While also serving as president of a national facilities management association for retailers, I was called upon to speak to large crowds (over 10,000 in New York) at conferences in places like Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

However, there is one thing I had to be careful about to maintain my professionalism. That was being politically correct. It did stifle me, but I struggled through it and learned more about leadership because of it.

Jack Welch, in his book “Winning” calls it candor–something he urges every CEO to practice in their company. He encourages people to say exactly what they mean and not what’s politically correct. That’s how he made General Electric such a world success.

My boss and mentor at H-E-B Food/Drugs, Ralph Mehringer, encouraged me to be forthright in what I believed. He trusted I would achieve, innovate and solve. Through him, I learned there were times to be politically correct.

Early on and often it wasn’t what some wanted to hear, but it didn’t take away the truth in it. And that’s undoubtedly the precedent of anything good.

According to philosophers and psychologists, we are somehow socialized from childhood not to say what we mean because it’s simply easier not to. You can cause pain, resentment, anger and feel obligated to clean the mess.

Which is quite reasonable until you dig beneath the gravel and find sand particles of pure self-interest. Making your own life easier, it never favors the other party in the long run.

Somehow my sister, Bobbi Dennis Shipman (a successful hospital and health systems consultant) and I both found strength in our ability to cut through weeds and cut to the chase to make the right things happen. In most cases we can do it diplomatically.

Ever challenged a thought amongst strangers and made a friend on the spot? It’s the respect you earn by just being you. How about telling your boss what nobody else is brave enough to? You might uunerve her, candor does that to people but it also leaves a solid impression.

Truth is, it won’t always go too well for you to be candid. I know of a friend who once lost his job for speaking his thoughts amidst investors who were visiting their company’s anniversary celebration. Looking back, he laughs at how fast he sent everyone scattering, mostly towards the bar.

Overall, we can’t continue to uphold hypocrisy in the wolf clothing we seem to have polished to make the package more presentable. It might feel like fighting human nature, and indeed it is. But it’s up to you and me to endure the uncomfortable shift for a more honest society.

Often it isn’t what you want to hear, still it doesn’t take away the truth in it. And that’s undoubtedly the precedent of anything good.


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One comment

  1. Jack, thanks for your advice and memories. If one has to bridle their emotions and beliefs, then they are stifling their true self. That’s the way I operate, and it sometimes gets me grilled. Nice recount.

    Liked by 1 person

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