There is no doubt that some take freedom in the wrong way, and what they get is more like anarchy, which is not freedom. But, from what I see, most people don’t really understand freedom. Based on actions, they seem to think it means, “I am free to do whatever I want, and you are ‘free’ to do a lot of the things I want you to do — because I know what is best for you.” In other words, they accept that others have some degree of autonomy, but they say, “These people still report to me” (as one example), meaning they must — in the end — do what I say.
Well, perhaps I am putting too much attention on where freedom is abridged and not counting enough where it waves free, but the abridgment is where we need to be fighting.
One argument made against free speech is that it is indecisive.
We must accept that in business we must make some decisions — many decisions are difficult and there are ones where full consensus is not possible, so we must have some way of deciding quickly, and hopefully the decisions have a good chance of being better (than doing it another way).
Some say the manager has the final authority. Umm. OK, that is one method. When implemented, it is not always a method that recognizes the freedom of the “workers.”
Also, managers forget too often Little’s second law: People are remarkably good at doing what they want to do. Frankly, I forget it too, on a daily basis. At least with knowledge workers, this voluntary consent seems to be necessary.
Managers should let people have their say. Each worker (for lack of a better word) doesn’t require the team do exactly what they say, but they can go with the decision more if they feel the group heard them. The team took the time to listen, and, one may hope, also learned.
Who should decide or how should the team decide?
Well, first, I would let the team discuss that. But, for a given decision, after everyone in the team gets a chance to express what they know or think or have questions about, then maybe one person decides. That person might be a manager, or whomever the best person on the team may be to decide that issue.
Now I come to political correctness that I see in the U.S. as mainly a corporate abrogation of our free speech rights. Yes, we could agree that some people say “evil” things. I never see this at work; perhaps it is latent, but I doubt it. I do see some silly things said, and occasionally a mean thing or two, but speaking and thinking are different than acting.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
So, IMO, the corporate “PC” codes have, in many cases, de facto gone way too far. Maybe the PC codes as written are OK, but the de facto effect is very bad, at least where I see them. (There may also be a good effect — I have not studied that and it is not as apparent to me.)
Definition of Belief in Free Speech: You only believe in free speech if you are willing to defend a person whose speech you strongly disagree with. (This is a famous definition.)
What the PC ethos does is cause people to lie and cover up and not tell the truth, sometimes even to themselves, so all the “imperfections” that we all have come seeping out another way — Freud showed this and we all have experiences that show this.
One could argue that for certain kinds of speech that are “not helpful” from a business viewpoint, we don’t care (from a business viewpoint) that that speech is suppressed. This does not affect the business — maybe, from a certain point of view. But, that we have treated the people as “under our control during business hours” does in fact affect business. at least with knowledge workers.
We must accept that every person holds biases and generalizations, for example. These can be useful, even life preserving, but equally they can be not useful or hurtful or stupid or worse. But, it is the nature of how our minds work that we generalize, and some ideas become biases, prejudices, discrimination, etc. Any thinking person should examine his generalizations and expect a bunch of them to be stupid. Also, as Linda Rising famously (to me) summarized, it is the way our animal being works. We are pack animals, for example.
Free speech is not just for the non-stupid ideas.
Stupid ideas especially deserve free speech.
The effect of the PC “rules,” however perfect they sounded on some bureaucrat’s desk, is that they create a culture where people withhold stupid thoughts and even good or useful thoughts — but let’s just focus on the stupid thoughts — and it is only by putting stupid thoughts on the table that the team can examine them and correct them.
(I may like the person, but I hate “the bureaucrat” almost every time.) And right now, I am talking about stupid thoughts that have a business impact.
Now, we do need some rules for extreme behavior or words. OK — that is a complicated area. But words that merely hurt our feelings cannot be unacceptable. In business, we have to hurt feelings.
A person might roughly say, “Oh, you suits, you guys never understand the technical stuff.” A gross generalization, but until it is on the table, the team can’t examine how true it might be.
A person might say, “Oh, geeze, you’re so like a chick with these concerns about emotions. Let’s get on with it.” Again, a gross generalization. Maybe that team needs to work on emotional IQ or not, but they can’t deal with either side of it until the issue is on the table.
A person might say, “Typical guy; gotta fidget with your tool endlessly. Bring your head up out of the screen, and consider the people just a bit. Dude!” Again, a gross generalization, but the PC impact is that these rough words don’t get said. And thus, the real issues are often unknown, and hence very hard to deal with.
Free speech is a serious issue.
More concretely, in business, we want people to feel free to say the truth — even unpleasant truth — a lot more than they currently do.
I am not advocating that people be mean or brutal with each other, but in general, we need to tell the truth more, and it will not always be fun. Some will object. Some will say they feel hurt.
Mostly, the fight is worth it.