Mark June 2015revised

Rabbi Mark S. Golub

There is an understandable backlash developing in America to the culture of “politically correct” speech.   There is a growing feeling among sensitive, liberal minded people that Truth is being sacrificed on the idolatrous altar of “Politically Correct.”  When “politically correct” stifles honest evaluation and flies in the face of “common sense,” it can cause a disproportionate explosion of extreme rhetoric.

To some extent, this explains the Donald Trump/Ben Carson/Bernie Sanders phenomenon – where people who are so tired of politicians dissembling that they celebrate candidates who seem to express their honest feelings, even when they are extreme or even outrageous.

On JBS, a similar attitude has characterized Viewer response to a talk given by Thane Rosenbaum, a noted liberal author, novelist and a Senior Fellow at NYU Law School where he heads the Forum on Law, Culture and Society.  Speaking recently at B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick, NJ, Thane pulled no punches in showing how political correctness has muted the truth regarding Islamic extremism, the dangers posed by a re-energized Iran, and the resurgence of anti-Semitism throughout Europe (Click here to watch “Thane Rosenbaum: The Iran Deal & Deja Vu”)

This is not to minimize the import of “politically correct” speech, the goal of which is to protect people’s feelings and to enhance their human dignity.  Politically correct speech is a check on racism, discrimination and persecution of others.  But it also tends to be taken to ludicrous extremes which literally curb the principle of free speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought.

The Jewish Tradition offers a profound alternative approach to “Politically Correct” speech – in the Jewish principle of “Derekh Eretz.”  The Hebrew literally means “Way of the Earth” – but it is an idiom that refers to the way people to treat everyone “Respect” and “Dignity.”

If American culture was committed to “Derekh Eretz,” one would be very careful in one’s speech never to denigrate or trivialize any other human being or to promulgate negative stereotypes regarding of any other group.

But “Derekh Eretz” does not obligate one to refrain from honest evaluations and honest discussion of problems related to any individual or group.

How nice it would be if “Politically Correct” was replaced by “Derekh Eretz,” maintaining an essential civility in social intercourse while facilitating a realistic and honest discussion of the challenges facing our civilization.