“You’re A Good Sort, I Must Avert My Eyes Before You Slap Me” – Barnaby On Political Correctness

17 Jun

From the Canberra Times:

We are free to embrace feelings

When you are travelling, and I have just got back from India and Malaysia, you always question if there are actual differences in culture and, if so, what are our peculiarities or attributes as Australians. I believe strongly that business and politics in Australia reflect an attribute which may have a historical legacy, based on disdain for authority, but has evolved into an egalitarian impartiality between us, cheeky politeness and a disdain for obsequiousness.

If we were politically correct then nicknames would be a prosecutable offence, however, in the vast majority of occasions they have an edge even when they are a term of endearment. How often do you relate the person to the salutation they give you, a name you had at school, a name a sporting team gave you, a name you had at work? Maybe it is the case that when you are called “Barnaby” the Australian idiom is more insistent on an informality to replace what it believes is too many syllables.

How many names from the Asian sector of Australia have been changed to a form that bears absolutely no resemblance to their actual name? There was a great bloke at university from Canberra called Keung Su but everybody knew him as Bill, in fact he introduced himself as such. One day when his close mates went to Canberra to see him they asked his father if they could speak to Bill. The story goes that his father disparagingly said that “no Bill lives here only Keung”. I remember at the end of my school days having people ask if Barnaby was really my name as I was always called Joycey. There were many who thought Barnaby was a nick name.

The stronger the character at times the more abrupt the nick name. Australia brings you into the group by removing the formality and putting you at ease. When travelling it is that capacity to take it down a cog in a world of protocols by reason that you hear our accent in the crowd and move in that direction. The egalitarian camaraderie which is our nation’s ethos may not boost your ego but it does lower your blood pressure. I believe it also helps in being more frank and cutting to the essence of an issue and coming to a conclusion rather than spending the whole meeting dotting personality ‘I’s and crossing your ‘t’s and leaving the meeting wondering what on earth the outcome was.

Informality is different to rudeness and a joke should not be extended to an insult. In Australia at times we have allowed that term called correctness to remove the essence of the warm egalitarian informality that is one of our greatest attributes. We look, we think, we check ourselves and we say nothing and the person’s day stays down rather than saying something nice with a bit of humour that actually picks the person up and makes them feel good. “Geese mate you’re looking great, you’ve lost so much weight, have you got worms?” It is the Australian tradition not to be saccharine so we appendage our praise with a humorous semi-deflating retort, but the compliment is there and their day is better.

Now we have become hesitant. We see someone, especially of the fairer sex, but we dare not tell them that they look nice. Luckily we have managed to re-engage that to open a door for a lady is not going to bring an end to the social advancement of women. If we fall for the trap of political correctness we manage to further emasculate that treasured part of the Australian culture, the genuine warmth of our informality and the capacity to speak our mind as equals. Structured societies are very formal, they are very politically correct and one might suggest that this has not been the greatest conduit to social advancement. But if someone says “you’re a good sort, I must avert my eyes before you slap me” then there can be the immediate movement to out this person as a misogynist when maybe, just maybe, it really was a compliment.

Now before you think I am reflecting on a recent tete-a-tete, I am not. Just reflecting that what I love about my country is that we have a freedom that allows us to abhor sycophancy and embrace that polite and free exchange of our more genuine and true feelings.

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