Paul Kincaid, Kincaid Communications, LLC

I never have understood exactly what “business casual” means.  For example, is the emphasis intended to be on “business” or on “casual”? 

A few years ago, I found out what the term DOESN’T mean.  I attended an invitation-only reception at a conference in July.  Because it was hot and the event was labeled as “business casual,” I wore nice tennis shorts, a Polo-style shirt, white mid-calf socks and tennis shoes.  From the looks I got and the way everyone else was dressed, it was easy to tell I had flunked their interpretation of “business casual.”  I didn’t stay there very long.

I freely admit I never have liked the look of a dress shirt with a sport coat without a tie.  For most men, that is the basic look for business casual — open collar dress shirt with slacks and a sport coat.  But that is not universal.  I had one colleague who thought he had achieved business casual if he kept his tie on, but took the handkerchief out of the breast pocket of his $2,500 suit.

If you don’t wear socks with a suit, is that automatically business casual?  If you wear jeans, but keep the tie with your sport coat, does that qualify?  How about nice shorts with a dress shirt and sport coat? 

As you can tell, I remain confused.  In the end, I am not sure the term has any real meaning.

I have the same confusion about the term “politically correct.”  It seems to me that, at best, the term is a crutch most often used as the final barb in a disagreement after all cogent points have been exhausted: “Now you’re just being politically correct.”

It reminds me of the elementary school argument-ending punchline: “Oh, yeah.  Well your Momma wears combat boots.”

I am not even sure the people who use the phrase know the meaning.  From what I can learn, it means you say or do something to please a particular group of people rather than provide and act on the unvarnished truth.  That doesn’t really tell me a lot and the concept of political correctness seems to fall apart under the tiniest bit of scrutiny.  And I would suggest that many who use the phrase as an insult to others are actually guilty themselves. 

For example…..

Where does common courtesy end and political correctness begin?

Is honoring the wishes of women who prefer to keep their given name instead of taking their husband’s name when they get married politically correct or common courtesy?  What about women who prefer the title Ms. instead of Mrs., and vice versa? 

And what is the problem with Native Americans preferring that designation and others preferring particular personal pronouns?

Where does political correctness end and hypocrisy begin?

Is it politically correct to earn a living by selling goods and services to customers of all races, creeds, colors and religions, and then make disparaging comments about those customers in private?  What about claiming to support the military and then doing everything possible to avoid paying taxes, which, of course, are the funding source for the military?  How about basking in the glory of favorite college and professional sports teams, many with high percentages of athletes of color, and then making racist comments in private? 

Is it politically correct to express a position against violence and then only express outrage when someone “on your side” is the victim, while remaining mum and quietly celebrating when the victim is from “the other side”?  Is it politically correct to publicly state one set of absolute core values and in a month/week/year/three years develop selective amnesia and commit to a totally different set of core values?  Is it politically correct to speak out and vote against a bill and then take credit for its benefits when it passes?

Where does political correctness end and good business begin?

Is striving to have all Boards of Directors include at least 50 percent women politically correct or an excellent business strategy?  Is including actors of different races, creeds and colors in television advertising politically correct or smart business — allowing current and potential customers to “see themselves” in the ads, which is a best practice of successful public relations and advertising?  Is diversity and inclusion an example of political correctness — or a best practice for business and organizations in the 21st century and beyond?

Where does political correctness end and dishonesty begin?

Is it politically correct to say that events on television in real time by millions of Americans never really happened?  Is it politically correct to believe in something so strongly that you intentionally commit a crime and then deny it?  How about advocating for transparency and then refusing to respond when asked questions?  Is it politically correct to be caught doing something and lie about it? 

(By the way, what moved me to complete this piece was the recent story about some Arizonians who are trying to intimidate voters by recording them.   When asked what they were doing, the two individuals interviewed, both of whom were obviously old enough to know better, provided the cowardly and dishonest response that they were told to give:  they were there to “get some Vitamin D” from being in the sun.)

You can see my confusion.  Upon further review, however, I believe the term “business casual,” as fuzzy as it is, is infinitely a more honest and straightforward term than “political correctness.”

Paul Kincaid

Paul Kincaid, an Independent, lives in Springfield. He spent 39 years in higher education public relations and governmental relations, and served as Chief of Staff to three University Presidents. The final 28 years were at Missouri State University. After retiring from Missouri State in 2014, he served eight years as Executive Director of Jobs for America’s Graduates-Missouri. He owns and operates his consulting company, Kincaid Communications, LLC. Email: Paul.K.Kincaid@gmail.com More by Paul Kincaid