The world is being washed over by waves of political correctness amid protests over the brutal death of George Floyd. Classic movies such as “Gone with the Wind” are being pulled from a film library, and using the word “women” has become controversial.
Discrimination is always wrong, and oppression is a terrible crime. Unfortunately, discrimination still exists, and racism has not disappeared. Sensitivity, empathy, and compassion toward victimized minorities are essential. However, excessive and perhaps obsessive political correctness is not the remedy for discrimination.
In my new book, The Narrow Halakhic Bridge: A Vision of Jewish Law in the Post-Modern Age, I deal at length with the dangers of erasing differences between people. Upon seeing 600,000 Jews, we are supposed to say a blessing: “Blessed is He Who discerns secrets.” The Gemara explains that we say this blessing since “their minds are unlike each other and their faces are unlike each other” (Berachot 58b).
In a homiletic interpretation of this Talmudic passage, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook writes that people have different attributes and opinions as a result of their nature and environment. Their traits affect their outer appearance, and every person contains the “secret” of his or her mission in this world.
G-d – the “Knower of Secrets” – has a divine purpose for all the various opinions and disputes in the world, and, ultimately, everyone will unite toward one goal and create a single, harmonious picture by contributing his or her own unique gifts.
If people believed they were all exactly alike, they wouldn’t struggle to prove their uniqueness, and the world wouldn’t develop as it should. Diversity – disparities between groups – creates a dynamic that spurs the world’s progress. As the Talmudic Sages said, “The jealousy of authors increases wisdom” (Bava Batra 21a).
Rav Kook writes, “If people knew of their inner congruence, no one would pull toward his [specific] group, individuality would disappear, and there would be no material to build the community” (Olat Re’ayah 1:389).
When everyone is forced to think in the same way – and when it becomes illegitimate to use words that express divergence – individuality is erased, ambition is squashed, progress ceases, and society stagnates.
A truly homogenous society will shrivel up and die. Only a multiplicity of opinions leads to healthy competition and mutual enrichment. If striving for tolerance and peace between individuals is achieved by erasing differences, we will damage humanity’s composition and the world’s progress.
It’s easy to attain peace by forcing people to be the same, but that kind of harmony isn’t sustainable and can ultimately cause more damage. Being politically correct is not necessarily correct and neither is going to the other extreme. We must find the “Golden Mean.”