Emotional Correctness as a Path to Civil Conversation

Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 8:42am

Emotional Correctness as a Path to Civil Conversation

by Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer

TED's a tease. In early October, Sally Kohn gave, from what I can tell, one heck of a impassioned TED Talk, but it has yet to be released. We anxiously await it's liberation from the archives.

In the meantime, I'd like to offer you this intriguing Q&A with the liberal pundit at FOX News. Politics aside, she strikes a chord with us here at On Being and our Civil Conversations Project. She provides a vision of how we can better facilitate conversation with our friends and neighbors who don't share our opinions on issues and ideas.

At the core of Ms. Kohn's thinking is "emotional correctness" — a mindset that sidesteps the pitfalls of political correctness and creates a source of connection with other people. Rather than winning the debate by finding a hole in a person's language, she argues that people ought to connect through intended meaning:

"Being politically correct can be emotionally vacuous, if it’s just about saying the right thing and checking the right boxes linguistically. It doesn’t matter how politically correct you are if you don’t actually put any heart into it and actually believe what you’re saying. Political correctness is almost a superficial way of saying that we’re on the same team. But are we really? That’s actually not about the words; it’s about the emotional content.

On the flip side, you can be emotionally correct but politically incorrect. I’ve had people say some pretty messed-up stuff to me, but I know they didn’t mean it to be messed up. Of course, we need to be careful about what we say. Political correctness is important — we don’t want people walking around calling each other the N-word or the C-word. Believe me, I’m not saying 'as long as you mean well, darling, then it’s all okay.' We actually need to stop ourselves from saying problematic things. But we can’t stop at that point. We might all be polite and talk nice to each other, but it’s dangerous to think that we’ve come so far on racial relations just because we no longer have overt racism. Instead, we have implicit bias and structural racism baked into our whole society.

To me, emotional correctness is about how to preserve political correctness while also scratching a layer deeper and trying to find real compassion and connection with each other. I think we’ve always needed that, but damn do we need it right now. The insults getting hurled back and forth from both sides of the political aisle are insane and it boils down to an incredibly divided country. We forget we’re actually all on the same team. ...

The flip side is that you constantly have to renew your faith in humanity. And I guess I see emotional correctness as part of that searching for the good in each other. In spite of sometimes very overwhelming evidence otherwise, that connection is there."

Read the full TED Q&A with Sally Kohn. It's worth it.

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Trent Gilliss is executive editor of On Being and chief content officer of Krista Tippett Public Productions. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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I need to work on this too. To not get emotional on heated subjects.

An example of lack of emotional correctness is the language that MSNBC person (man) said about Sarah Palin recently. Not much shocks me but that did...his apology did not work with me. I will think about it.