The claim that the word ‘brainstorming’ is politically incorrect has raised its head again – this time in the Sun newspaper.
Columnist Kelvin MacKenzie claims that a business colleague from a ‘Big Five’ firm of accountants had been rebuked for using the term brainstorming and was told to use instead the phrase ‘thought shower’.
The suggestion is that the word is somehow derogatory to epileptics. Yet, the claim that ‘brainstorming’ may offend epileptics is an urban myth.
Every so often I do research among charities and pressure groups concerned with epilepsy and mental health issues, as well as informal research among friends who have suffered from epilepsy.
No one has any formal policy, or even cause for concern with the word ‘brainstorming’. (Ironically, one year I did my survey and I did manage to offend a representative from one epilepsy campaign group who objected to my survey: because they did not want ‘epilepsy’ to be associated with the term ‘mental health’!)
So why is there this urban myth surrounding the word ‘brainstorming’?
We are witnessing what can be labeled a ‘brainstorming is politically incorrect’ meme. The idea is able to replicate itself, and live on under its own volition. Why?
Because some people actually want the idea to be true; they may be against what they perceive as ‘Political Correctness’: in their worldview, PC is a bad thing, and the more examples of PC being absurd, and taken to ridiculous lengths, the more it confirms their underlying belief, or prejudice.
Having a ‘brainstorming is politically incorrect’ meme makes them feel better about themselves, and want to pass it on to others to reinforce their view of how the world should be.
For what it’s worth, I think what has been labeled ‘Political Correctness’ has, for the most part, been a brilliant thing. Just watching some television comedies or soap operas from the 1970′s, or recalling comedy acts of the time, and our world of 2011 is a better place.
A recent radio interview with the comedian Lenny Henry (who happens to be black) recalled how, in the 1970′s the young Lenny used to dread the comedian Jim Davidson being on telly because the other kids would have fresh names and material to call and abuse the black kids in the school.
Like any tool however, Political Correctness has to be used in the right context with the appropriate level of force.
One problem with ‘Politcal Correctness’ is that it has become what I label a ‘sanctity paradigm’ – where it is difficult to argue against if invoked in a debate or argument. (In the same way as, ‘health and safety’, ‘national defence’, ‘anti-terrorist measures’ are used.)
The tactic I use when faced with anyone invoking a ‘sanctity paradigm’ is to say: “Is it intelligent Political Correctness?”
More people should be prepared to stand up and challenge what they perceive as unintelligent use of the tool ‘Political Correctness’. This does not mean you think Political Correctness is a bad thing; just that it needs to appropriately be used in the right, time, place and context.
So, you actually have a choice: you can say that ‘Brainstorming is politically incorrect’, or you could say that ‘Brainstorming is politically correct.’
Whether it is true or not, depends on whether you believe everything printed in the Sun newspaper is true, and what part you want ‘Political Correctness’ to live in your world view.
In the meantime I will keep on brainstorming around the world.