Political correctness beats callousness, By Goldwin Emerson

Political correctness beats callousness

By Goldwin Emerson 


London Free Press, December 31, 2016

In modern society, political correctness has come to mean giving due consideration to the customs, ethnic habits, religious choices, and clothing and manners of the people who are different from ourselves. Usually political correctness is regarded as an obligation the majority culture owes towards people who are in minority groups and who need special help and special understanding to assure that the rights and habits of minorities are protected.

Our Canadian society now faces questions of political correctness that are fairly new to many of us. In the past twenty‐five years Canadians have given consideration to issues of political correctness such as the following: Should males who are accustomed to wearing turbans be allowed to continue to do so when they are on duty as Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers? Should women who are accustomed to wearing face coverings be required to remove them when testifying in a court of law? Should marriages of couples who are of the same sexual orientation have equal legal status as traditional marriages? Should our police be required to follow exactly the same practices for stopping and questioning motorists for all ethnic groups and should the practice of “carding” be forbidden?

Some of the practices and issues above have already been more or less settled in our society as to which actions are politically correct and which are in the process of being determined. There are many more such issues yet to be dealt with. Most of the above are concerned with judicial matters, but there are also issues of political correctness that concern personal matters which can be dealt with at a social level. These concerns have to do with relationships with our friends, our neighbours, or people we work with daily.

Some have to do with racial or ethnic “put downs” of fellow workers or associates. Others concern denigrating terms which are made by males insulting females. Occasionally hurtful terms are directed at the elderly while some are

directed at those who may be either physically or mentally challenged. In these cases there is often a thin veneer of humour going along with the insult. The humour aspect gives the receiver the option of covering up their hurt feelings by pretending to laugh at oneself unless they choose to combat the politically incorrect action more directly. Often this latter approach is unsuccessful since it may look to others that the receiver lacks a sense of humour.

Some of the cruelest types of political incorrectness occur in school settings in the form of bullying those who are perceived to be different from other students. This can include being too fat or too thin, wearing clothes perceived to be out of fashion, being too unintelligent or on the other hand being too smart and thus “nerdy.”

In school age settings cyber bullying can be particularly damaging since the perpetrators may be unseen and unknown. This anonymity increases the harm done rather than lessening its effectiveness. In some cases bullying has resulted in severe trauma and occasionally even student suicides.

There are, however, those who argue that political correctness has gone too far. Some say that we are now expected to be too careful about what we say and how we say it. They argue that we live in a free and open society. Freedom of speech has advanced our society and our politics in Canada. It is further argued that Canadians should be able to express our views honestly and freely and that’s how society can be improved. When politicians have freedom to criticize each other in political debates or other forms of communication we may all benefit. Listeners too can benefit from open and honest communication and in our democratic society we are free to individually choose from the best ideas.

On the other hand, I think that political correctness has helped us to see that when we speak with respect for others this can help us to understand each other. It can help to broaden our view of how those who differ from us may have much to offer. Political correctness can actually help us and others to have more, not less, freedom of speech. On balance, I look on political correctness as a positive improvement over the callousness of political incorrectness.

Helping others helps us find meaning, By Goldwin Emerson

Helping others helps us find meaning

By Goldwin Emerson, 


London Free Press, November 19, 2016

Philosophers have long pondered the question of what constitutes a meaningful life. Generally, ordinary folks believe they live meaningful lives unless unfortunately they suffer from deep depression, extreme anxiety, or painful physical illness. For many of us, the question of meaning requires further serious thought.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908‐1970) identified some necessary conditions for meaningfulness. We need a sense of security about food, shelter and protection from harm.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the most basic necessities were called physiological needs. Water, clean air, warmth, shelter, nourishing food, and security are among the basic needs we require before it is even possible to think about having a meaningful life.

These basic needs are so crucial that unless we have won a lottery or inherited a fortune, many of us will devote half of our lifetime working hard to make sufficient money to ensure basic survival needs are met.

Before we can begin to consider higher order needs, we also have basic social needs that allow us to feel good about ourselves. Being part of a family or receiving love from a partner we trust makes us feel accepted and valued.

Satisfying our social needs brings confidence and feelings of esteem and belonging. It helps us believe we are worthwhile when others reinforce our sense of belonging and approval within our social groups.

A further step in accepting our value involves understanding the ways we can improve our self‐image and our feelings of self‐worth. For example, after we have achieved our most basic needs, we can become more involved in things that will improve our cognitive and creative development. We will be free to develop through reading and studying. We can learn new skills and grow in self‐ confidence. If we are curious enough to learn about new areas of knowledge such

as learning a second language, or pursuing new interests in genealogy, travelling or new skills in the arts, we will increase our self‐ esteem and become more acceptable to others and we will feel better about ourselves.

Maslow called these secondary levels of self‐improvement self‐actualization. People can enrich their own lives by further developing aesthetic interests. These higher‐order needs can improve one’s life by an appreciation for fine music, and beautiful art, and balancing one’s physical activities with healthy habits for eating, exercising, and developing fuller involvement in social relationships.

Often involvement in larger social groups leads to better and more creative approaches that help us consider solutions for problems characteristically found within larger societies. Better understanding of how society functions in large groupings can develop improvements in social adhesion and mutual co‐operation and lead us to better self‐awareness.

Some social psychologists have extended the basic ideas of Maslow to include levels of higher human development. Only after our most basic needs are satisfied will people have freedom to look beyond basic everyday demands for food and water and security.

When people feel comfortable within themselves they worry less about satisfying their everyday needs. They are able to think about transcending their own needs and begin to consider how they can help others. They develop a strong moral compass and direct their attention towards caring and helping others meet their basic needs for good food, healthy living, and other basic daily requirements.

Exceptional moral leaders like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi did not devote much of their energy or interests toward meeting their own basic needs. Instead they put a great deal of commitment into helping others achieve their basic requirements.

They lived their lives as moral leaders who knew how to find meaning and purpose by caring for others.

While most of us will not attain the moral perspectives of Mother Teresa or Gandhi we can move toward better moral goals. For example, good parents are often willing to put aside their own personal needs in order that their offspring will be free to pursue meaningful goals.

When we are asked if we live meaningful lives we may already say “yes” but we can progress to fuller lives when we learn how to respond more meaningfully by helping those in need.

In the end, meaningful life is not given to us but we can develop and enhance it through our own efforts and by helping others.