Sunday, July 12, 2009

Politically Incorrect

Sita Devi “Oh best of men, what you have said is not becoming of a mighty prince versed in military arts and is really very opprobrious and infamous. What more, it is not proper even to hear them.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

The concept of political correctness has steadily gained in popularity over the years and has now been subscribed to by most in society. Wikipedia defines political correctness as being

“…a term applied to language, ideas, policies, or behavior seen as seeking to minimize offense to gender, racial, cultural, disabled, aged or other identity groups.”

It is a concept that germinated from a group of people known as the “offended.” This group, which constantly takes offense to statements made about them or others, gave us the idea of “political incorrectness”, which is any statement deemed to be purposefully harmful to another group.

Any person can be part of the “offended.” Anytime anyone says something that impacts someone else in a negative way, the affected party can claim to be offended. This material world is full of dualities. Hot and cold, good and bad, likes and dislikes are concepts that everyone is familiar with. What may be viewed as beneficial by one person, may be deemed as harmful to another. Certain people like to eat vegetables, while others abhor them. So as soon as we make any statement, as harmless as they may seem to us, there are bound to be people who take umbrage. This phenomenon was never better displayed then during the 1995-96 presidential election season in America. In 1995, General Colin Powell, a well respected military man who had previously served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was contemplating running for the office of President of the United States in the following year’s election. General Powell enjoyed tremendously high approval ratings amongst the populace and it was for this reason that he thought about running. However, one fact was overlooked by many. General Powell had yet to take a stance on any major issues. No one knew what he stood for. By staying away from controversial issues, General Powell ensured that the majority of people would like him, for as soon as he declared his stance on abortion or gun control, he was sure to alienate at least half the voting public, which would dramatically affect his approval ratings.  He eventually decided against running.

Colin Powell When one makes an opinionated statement, there are bound to be those who disagree not based on the actual merits of the statement, but more on how the opinions make them feel. The person making the statements is then put on defensive and attacked not for the substance of their statements, but for their motives behind making them. “I can’t believe that you said that. You’re a racist, sexist, bigot, homophobe, etc.” is the usual retort of the offended. Common terms such as “African-American”, “Hispanic-American”, and “undocumented worker” are all products of the political correctness movement. These various groups took umbrage with the words used to describe them, so people subsequently started using terms deemed less offensive. In actuality, almost everyone is suffering from the skin disease brought on by contact with the material world. We can use less offensive terms to describe physical characteristics, but these identifications are still flawed since they don’t reference the fact that we are all constitutionally equal.

The motivation behind the political correctness movement is to stifle free speech. Labeling something as “politically incorrect” attaches a stigma to it, and people are less likely to utter such statements. One can read a newspaper or watch cable television to see examples of political incorrectness. A famous celebrity need only utter one statement deemed as offensive, and the media will subsequently run with the story. People naturally will have a negative reaction to such statements, not realizing that everyone one of us is flawed and living on the bodily platform.

Being in the material world means falsely identifying with our bodies and not realizing that we are all constitutionally spirit souls. As spirit souls, we are all equal, yet forgetting that fact, we make generalizations about groups of people based on their physical attributes. In actuality one shouldn’t be offended simply by words uttered by others. If we understand the Vedic truth of aham brahmasmi (“ I am spirit soul”), then we can easily brush aside any statements pertaining to our gross material body.

When Lord Krishna incarnated as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, He was ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years by His father, King Dashratha. This all occurred on the very day He was to be installed as the new king. Just prior to leaving town, the Lord went back to His palace and told His wife Sita the news. She was very distraught, and to make matters worse, the Lord instructed her not to accompany Him. He gave her a very erudite sounding speech, stating that her duties were now to serve the new king, Lord Rama’s younger brother Bharata. The Lord wanted to protect her from the difficulties of forest life, so He begged her to stay in Ayodhya and await His return fourteen years later.

When Sita Devi heard this, she was very angered. She was Lakshmi herself, the goddness of fortune who is always serving Krishna in the spiritual world. Lakshmi incarnated as Sita Devi as a means of accompanying the Lord in the execution of His pastimes. Sita was greatly offended at the mere thought of being separated from Rama. She immediately chastised Him for even suggesting such a thing. This represents the attitude of a true devotee of the Lord. Devotees can never live without Krishna. Any thought of separation from the Lord is immediately rejected by them.

Such ideas of separation and forgetfulness of our relationship with God represent real political incorrectness. Today there is much talk about God being dead or God not existing. Krishna is accepted as a mere mortal or a manifestation of the impersonal Brahman by many so-called yogis and Vedantists. This sort of speech is what actually needs to be stopped, not mundane statements made about someone’s bodily characteristics. Instead of identifying ourselves as American, Indian, black, or white, we should reacquaint ourselves with our true identity, that of servants to Lord Krishna. We should take offense at any blasphemous remarks directed at the Lord and His devotees, the Vaishnavas.

We should learn from Sita Devi’s example, and never put up with such talk and refute it every opportunity we get. Lord Rama, being God Himself, is incapable of making offensive remarks but He purposefully made these statements to His wife because He knew they would anger her.  He wanted people to learn from her reaction. He knew just how devoted she was to Him, but He wanted everyone else, including future generations, to also witness her display of devotion. “My Lord, you are the only truth. Life without you is a life not worth living. So please do not suggest such a thing.” These were the thoughts of Sita and for this she is the perfect woman and devotee.