Thinking Out Loud

Discouraging Honesty

Two people in the news this past week were fired from their jobs for being honest—and human. One was a journalist, the other a Department of Agriculture official in Georgia. Both were honest and open in their public comments with good intentions and clear purpose.

The journalist was a twenty year CNN veteran. She made a tweet (as in Twitter) about the death of a founding member of Hezbollah. The tweet expressed a sense of loss, which CNN saw as compromising the journalist’s objectivity. How could she have credibility if she expressed her private feelings publicly?

Two things are wrong here. The first is that the medium only allows 140 characters, so a complete understanding of what she meant is unlikely. The second is CNN didn’t bother to find out before firing her. That’s just wrong. She, of course, explained herself. Her comment was not a vote of confidence for Hezbollah, it was made out of respect for someone who had advanced the cause for women’s rights in the Middle East. That’s all.

The Department of Ag official (black) was talking honestly about her struggles with race as a young women and how she handled a situation with a man (white) who exhibited racism. His whiteness influenced her decision. She told this story in a context that was not promoting racism but doing the opposite. She appeared to have been forced to resign. Fortunately, the Department of Agriculture learned the whole story, apologized, and re-offered her the job. It shouldn’t have been necessary.

I understand the difficulty for CNN and the Ag Department in terms of public perception. They must be scrupulous with the public trust, so certain behaviors must not be allowed—discrimination and bias among them. Yet, we’ve become so jumpy about every utterance, without considering context, intention, and real impact (not imaged impact). It puts everyone on edge, trying to be politically correct all the time or you will lose your job and credibility.

It takes time and effort to understand one another. We must accept this reality, which means giving the benefit of the doubt by asking thoughtful questions until we have an absolute understanding of what was meant. That is a basic human courtesy and a basic and necessary communication skill. We must practice this in both our personal and public lives or risk continuing a climate of paranoia that fosters extreme political correctness—neither of which serves us well on any front or forum.

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