We heard the story recently of a dear old man, well-respected in his village, who throughout his life liked to surprise local children by occasionally giving them sweets.He stopped doing so about 10 years ago after it was politely pointed out to him that his generosity was likely to be misinterpreted.
He was horrified at any suggestion of impropriety. Indeed, the very thought that anyone could even think of such a thing was alien to him. From the day of his quiet warning, he was never the quite the same again – and though it hurt him greatly, he avoided all contact with children. He died recently, alone and basically unloved.
Given that we read reports every day of people grooming children for their own sick ends, it’s right and proper that we do all we can to protect children. But our society has evolved into one in which we risk opprobrium by attempting to draw a dividing line between commonsense and political correctness.
This was noticeable at a recent football match in the Central Belt, when a few moments’ silence was observed in respect for those who died in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. One fan – again, a decent and honourable gent – asked a friend why it was necessary to stage such an act of remembrance for the victims of a natural disaster on the other side of the world. Having asked the question, he politely observed the act of remembrance, only to be rounded upon by those around him. He made the point that it would be a solemn world indeed if we were to mark every tragic event, no matter where it occurred, in such a way. But he didn’t win his argument and was duly castigated.
Both stories came to mind the other day when we heard of a newspaper reporter who was doing some research on a former MP known to the world as Dick. The journalist Googled his name, only to find that it offended the internet obscenity block used by his employer. He was later horrified to learn that his attempt to find online references to Dick had come to his editor’s attention. Despite protestations of innocence, he can’t help feeling his reputation has somehow been tainted.
The three men in our story were all victims of innocently failing to observe changing social mores. They made a faux pas of which we all – individuals, companies, governments, whatever – must be aware. Failing to be PC-aware can be a PR disaster – unless, of course, you couldn’t care less.
It’s a safe bet, for example, that Justice Secretary Ken Clarke won’t lose any sleep over the flak he took for appearing to enjoy a power nap in the Commons while the Chancellor was delivering his Budget speech. But then, how could being PC-correct ever trouble a man who wears Hush Puppies?