Seize the Day

As adults and public servants we should be able to talk plainly and be understood.

By Eddie A. Jones, AAC County Consultant

“The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings — and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings.”

These lines were written almost 150 years ago by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass. Well, it was actually a narrative poem within that book called The Walrus and the Carpenter and recited by none other than Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Lewis Carroll was known for his facility of word play, logic and fantasy. This article may seem just as discombobulated as the poem, but I trust I can make my point. While I generally have disdain toward “politically correct” terms, I’m going to embrace one term before I depart this keyboard albeit in an unorthodox way. But not before deriding the over use of political correctness — at least by some.

The term “politically correct” entered the general vernacular of the American populous 30 to 35 years ago. However, the first known use of the term goes all the way back to 1934. Over the years it has taken on increasingly more meaning and intensity. Politically correct was introduced so as to not offend anyone in a multicultural society, and we have simply taken it to the extremes for no good reason. For fear of offending someone, it has become almost impossible to say what we really want to say or what we’re thinking — at least in terms that most of us would understand. When we have to ask ourselves, “What did he or she actually say or mean ... that’s usually when being “politically correct” has gone too far.

You suddenly realize we have taken this “politeness” too far when authors start writing books actually making fun or satirizing the overdone practice. James Finn Garner has actually written Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. In this redo of 14 timeless fairy tales, James reworked them to become relevant fables for more modern times. These hilarious adaptations satirize and sanitize the sexist, racist, nationalist, and ageist biases of classic bedtime stories. Familiar exploits of beloved characters are related from a respectful, prejudice-free perspective: the Emperor is no longer naked in his new clothes but “is endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle.” Snow White escapes to the cottage of “seven vertically-challenged men.” And Goldilocks is “an ambitious scientist studying anthropomorphic bears.”

Garner has taken time-tested tales and retold them with the “newfound sensitivity of our times.” Here is a snippet from Little Red Riding Hood.

In the scene where the wolf grabs Little Red Riding Hood and the woodchopper bursts into the cottage the story goes like this: “Hands off!” cried the woodchopper. “And what do you think you’re doing?” cried Little Red Riding Hood. “If I let you help me now, I would be expressing a lack of confidence in my own abilities, which would lead to poor self-esteem and lower achievement scores on my college entrance exam.”

I know these examples are extreme and even meant to be funny, but give me a break. Why can’t we say what we need to say to convey our message? It saves a lot of time and is much easier to understand. The arena of politics is probably the worst when it comes to the overuse of political correctness. If there is any arena where we should be plain and forthright it is in the arena of government and politics, where everyone is affected in one way or another. And there should be no doubt about what was said or done.

That, of course, does not mean that we should be mean, combative, cantankerous, radical, or inconsiderate of others feelings but simply that we should be plain and simple in the explanation of our positions. That is the position we should take as a public servant: a county elected official or employee; a state representative or senator; a state constitutional officer; or a congressman. Don’t try to hide what you are actually saying in some convoluted “politically correct” jargon.

Of course, we also have those today who “call” themselves “public servants” that have absolutely no civility about them. They do not think about nor are they concerned about someone else’s opinion or position on an issue, let alone think about being politically correct. That is wrong — dead wrong. Our political discourse should always be civil.

Between being uncivil and uncaring and being so politically correct that no one understands what you’re trying to say, it’s no wonder nothing gets done.

The definition of a “euphemism” boils down to not caring enough to use the very best word. I believe the best example and worst fad in euphemisms is “politically correct” language. Stay away from it. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Just be cognizant of people’s feelings. Most anything can be said plainly but with tact.

I have several friends in the public service sector whom I constantly remind that even if they are correct they should not approach the situation in a way to make the other person or group feel badly, belittled or attacked. Approach the situation with skill and grace. A little diplomacy and tact go a long way.

Being “politically correct” has become everything from

political rhetoric to being the source of humor and just about everything in between. I have never taken much interest in political correctness and simply try to be as considerate and polite as possible to those that I’m working with and for. Of course I have read or heard a few things that were “politically correct” that were plain and honest and put forth admirably — and I’ve heard those things that were quite amusing, but in general, I have not had much use for what has, in my opinion, become a radical way of not offending people that actually seems offensive in its own right.

In reading through a list of “politically correct” terms, I learned a shoplifter is actually a “Cost-of-Living Adjustment Specialist” and being dead is “Actuarially Mature.” Here are a few others:

• Dishonest is ethically disoriented;

• Homeless is residentially flexible;

• Criticism is unjust self-esteem reducer; and

• Ignorant is factually unencumbered.

The list of ridiculous politically correct terms is almost endless and, in my opinion, almost useless. However, I came across one term that was somewhat interesting and one I felt could be useful. So let’s segue into my infrequent positive moment of political correctness.

Ever hear of “pressure-prompted”? This term is used to be politically correct when describing one who is a procrastinator. Don’t laugh. We all sometimes find ourselves pressure-prompted because we haven’t done something in a timely manner. I suffer those pangs almost daily trying to meet some deadline.

Let’s mull over the potential use of that term and what it could mean if it was taken out of its politically correct context.

It often seems as though government, at all levels, is content to operate under the status quo until external pressures require change. While government is likely not categorized as a “procrastinator,” it certainly is “pressure-prompted.”

Look at the 2017 session of the Arkansas General Assembly completed and the 2019 session coming up. No doubt we could say they were “pressure-prompted” to revise a plan to allow thousands of low-income, uninsured Arkansans the use of federal Medicaid funds to purchase private health insurance — the pressure of which they will revisit in 2019.

They will be pressure-prompted concerning tax reform, which they have been studying in the interim. I’m sure our tax structure can stand some restructuring to be more competitive economically with surrounding states. The problem is most legislators looking at tax reform are looking toward tax cutting more than tax restructuring.

Why does the state continue to look toward cutting taxes when funding needs are so great? In fact, when just and legal debts of the state are being paid by county government. As of June 30, 2015, a study conducted by Arkansas Legislative Audit concluded that Arkansas counties were subsidizing the state circuit court system by at least $41 million per year. No doubt it is more now. And these numbers do not include district court costs, which are also a state court under Amendment 80. The Arkansas Constitution, Article 16, § 2 says that it is the responsibility of the General Assembly to “provide for the payment of all just and legal debts of the State.” The state should be pressure-prompted to pay for its court system.

More pressure-prompting: 911 funding. The function of 911 has become an expected and needed service. It is a public safety service that our constituents need and deserve. It was sold to our counties by the telecommunication companies in the beginning as a service that would pay for itself through user fees. Yet, in most counties it never has. Counties across Arkansas are subsidizing 911 to the tune of $20 to $25 million per year. The Arkansas legislature holds the keys to 911 structure and funding because it is all established in state law. The state should feel pressure-prompted to help solve this public safety problem.

Why do we continually look toward cutting revenues when our infrastructure — at both the state and county levels — is crumbling around us? County government cannot keep our courthouses and jails properly maintained because we are spending too much of our general revenues paying for state responsibilities.

I’m not being overly critical of state government for being “pressure-prompted” because counties do the same thing. They don’t do things that need to be done until the pressures are so great they don’t have much choice. And, even then some do not have the will to do the right thing.

Have you ever been in those meetings when the question is asked, “If this is the right thing to do, why weren’t you pursuing it before the current crisis?” That’s a good question. The real answer is not usually given. The answer normally given is that up until recently we weren’t faced with the pressures that exist right now. We find ourselves in a situation that demands change.

The real answer is that if we were properly doing our jobs we would have planned for what we saw and knew was coming — we would carpe diem!

Carpe diem is a phrase from a Latin poem by Quintus Horatius Flaccus, more widely known as Horace, which has become an aphorism. The concise statement of principle in that Latin phrase is “seize the day.” The underlying concept is we should live in and enjoy the present, and one should not leave to chance future happenings. Rather one should do all one can today to make one’s future better. In other words, as leaders in government we should use our intellectual capacity to contemplate and plan for the future. That is part and parcel in seizing the day.

My message is at least two-fold:

• Don’t get caught up in the annoying use of “politically correct” terminology. Just say what you mean and mean what you say — always being considerate of others views and feelings. Almost anything can be said in a direct and plain manner as long as you use a little skill and grace. Civility goes a long way in getting your point across to others.

• If you must embrace some “politically correct” term, try our taken-out-of-its-politically-correct-context term “pressure-prompted.”

Even when it becomes easier to try to maintain the status quo, continue to put pressure on yourself to stay on the forefront of strategy and good government. We should not wait for outside forces to cause us to be “pressure-prompted.” We can more effectively control our own destiny, increase public value and fulfill our mission of public service when we move forward on our own terms. Choose to be pressure-prompted, but choose your own pressures before your pressures are chosen for you.

Things do change whether we like it or not. No doubt we will see some of that in the 2019 legislative session. We should no longer be sweeping dirt floors. That time has passed. I believe leadership for solving the big stuff can be found in state and county government officials. Let’s throw away the brooms, quit sweeping dirt floors, bring in the lumber and build some new floors. Seize the day!

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