Political Correctness Really Does Work -- in Politics, Marriage and Life

I've been married for 40 years. I can't imagine that my marriage would have survived or thrived without political correctness.

Political correctness has come under fire in the presidential campaign, most notably by Republican front-runner Donald Trump. Trump has said in several media interviews that he dislikes political correctness because, "It takes too much time to be politically correct." That attitude has applied across the board to treatment of individuals as well as in labeling groups.

He's not alone. Rev. Franklin Graham, successor to the famed Billy Graham Evangelical Ministry, said that he has no time for political correctness. In a television interview, Graham said that there "may be heathens" among the current field of presidential candidates. Not exactly endearing or productive. Not exactly civil or politically correct.

I was contemplating this assault on political correctness in the context of my recent 40th wedding anniversary, which my wife and I proudly celebrated and which many friends and acquaintances say is a monumental achievement. Some have asked me how I achieved this milestone. The answer is that I have been politically correct.

The bad rap that political correctness gets is because those who attack it really want to say anything they want to say, wherever they want to say it, no matter whom they offend and, in many cases, no matter how rude they are.

When Trump said of the Syrian refugees, "Most of them are probably ISIS," or of the Mexican refugees, "They're sending us the drug dealers and criminals," he was not being politically correct. But, according to the fact-checkers, he was not being truthful, either. "Brutal honesty" is not honesty at all - it just a sugary euphemism for being brutally cruel and offensive. And Trump has managed to offend and alienate both the Muslim and Latino worlds.

When, just a few days ago, he ejected from a rally a Muslim woman, dressed in hijab, holding a sign and quietly protesting discrimination against Muslims, he was not being politically correct. He was being mean, hateful and discriminatory. Let's call it what it is.

If we, the electorate, permit as "normal" Candidate Trump's angry, mean-spirited political directness, we are really endorsing meanness, untruthfulness, explosive anger and political ruthlessness. Anyone accepting his rhetoric would be retreating from our heritage and values under the flimsy excuse of expediency.

Getting back to my marriage. In order to stay married, you need to be politically correct. I remember the first time my wife asked me how she looked in a dress as we were preparing to go out to a gala. My immediate answer was, "Honey, you look great." That happened to be the honest truth, but it was, also, the right answer.

I found out the hard way that when I engaged in nit-picky honesty, especially about matters of weight, hair and complexion, our matrimonial conversations did not go well. Trump may not have learned this: he's been married three times.

Relationships require some political correctness. If you want to have and sustain a relationship, mutual feelings matter. How you respect those feelings generally make the difference between success and failure, having a conversation or flaming out in discord and turmoil.

Anger subverts relationships. Those who exhibit anger in marriage or friendship don't stay married and don't keep friends. They have zero-tolerance for political correctness, and have abusive relationships.

Unfortunately, this is the trend-line of the current Republican front-runners Trump and Cruz, appealing to out-of-the-mainstream angry, white, middle-class Republican voters.

This sentiment is reflected in the January issue of The Atlantic by former George W. Bush speech-writer David Frum, reported in a Plain Dealer op-ed by Brent Larkin:

"The angriest and most pessimistic people in America are the people we used to call Middle Americans. Middle class and middle aged; not rich and not poor; people who are irked when asked to press 1 for English ....

White Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they normally vote for -- the Republican party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts.

They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollster, 'That's my guy.'"

The problem with this mix of anger, incivility and lack of political correctness is that it is a toxic brew that ensures that things will not work. Everyone without exception wants to deal with those who treat them with respect, regard, dignity and civility -- anathema to Trump and his legions. There is no well-functioning workplace team that does not require political correctness. And I certainly can't imagine any marriage enduring without these elements.

Maybe we need to think of political correctness in a new way. Maybe we should think of it as simply being courteous, civil, considerate, responsible and wise. Maybe we should understand that it fosters collaboration. It greases the wheels. It makes things work.

I wear the badge of a 40-year-long loyal, kind, caring, politically correct marriage with pride. Yes, that takes time, thought, effort, self-control, compromise and consideration. Without these caring behaviors, neither a marriage nor our country will work effectively.

Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us Project Love is a school-based character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to www.projectlove.org