Friday, April 27, 2007

Would You Be My Friend? (or Ni Xiang Shi Wode Pengyou Ma?)

Yesterday, someone I know, who will remain nameless, received an e-mail from the "big boss." This message, which was sent to all employees, was apparently written in response to the fact that the Virginia Tech shooting was carried out by a person of Korean descent. The gist of the e-mail was that the shooting provides us with an "opportunity" to reaffirm our commitment to being inclusive and caring toward others of different backgrounds and circumstances.

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with this basic sentiment (although it strikes me that we have more important things to do in the aftermath of a tragedy like this). For my money, though, the letter comes across as preachy and even condescending to the organization's employees. In a more general sense, I would characterize it as the latest installment in the long-running hit series Political Correctness Gone Wild.

And it gets better...or worse as it were. To really drive home the point, the e-mail includes an attachment entitled "101 Tools For Tolerance." These are steps we can take in our lives to promote equity and celebrate diversity. Are you kidding me?

Here is a taste of what is being suggested to the employees who received the e-mail:

#1 - Attend a play, listen to music or go to a dance performance by artists whose race or ethnicity is different from your own.

#5 - Shop at ethnic grocery stores and specialty markets. Get to know the owners. Ask about their family histories.

#7 - Ask a person of another cultural heritage to teach you how to perform a traditional dance or cook a traditional meal.

#18 - Create a "diversity profile" of your friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Set the goal of expanding it by next year.

#21 - Invite someone of a different background to join your family for a meal or holiday.

#22 - Give a multicultural doll, toy or game as a gift.

#26 - Bookmark equity and diversity websites on your home computer.

#37 - Examine the "diversity profile" for your children's friends. Expand the circle by helping your children develop new relationships.

#59 - Celebrate "Someone Special Day" instead of Mother's Day or Father's Day. Keep adoptive and foster students in mind when planning family-oriented programs.

#71 - Vary your lunch partners. Seek out co-workers of different backgrounds, from different departments, and at different levels in the company.

#100 - Conduct a "diaper equity" survey of local establishments. Commend managers who provide changing tables in men's as well as women's restrooms.

OK...here's the image I have running around in my head. Imagine a well-meaning employee of this organization. This person receives the e-mail and decides to take the tolerance tools to heart. After creating a "diversity profile" of their children's friends, they realize that their kids are a bit lacking in, say, the El Salvadorean department. "Man, my kids don't hang out with any kids from El Salvador." So what next? "Hey, there's a little El Salvadorean child riding his bike down the street. Quick Johnny, go play with that El Salvadorean kid." And this could be just the beginning. Before long, if this person plays their cards right, they could be invited over to the El Salvadorean house to learn how to make pupusas.

Now, mind you, I love pupusas. (Irene's makes the best around here...must...have...pupusas...) But this whole "tools for tolerance" approach, and the PC movement in general, uses questionable means to achieve laudable ends. Yes, the world would be a better place if there were more tolerance and understanding. But to treat other human beings as instruments for increasing the "diversity profile" of our circle of friends is wrong. It's just plain wrong.

~Steve

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