DEAR MISS MANNERS: I work as a supervisor in a federal government agency. Through our excellent and infallible sensitivity training, I have learned that as a white male from Appalachia with a Southern accent and German heritage in excellent mental and physical health, I am perceived as a "racist, prejudiced, ignorant, hillbilly oppressor" by my very existence. I also learned that all my subordinates and most of my co-workers are also members of one or more "victim" groups that I have the potential to offend.
In order to avoid offending our more sensitive employees and minimize legal liability, I have been professionally and legally counseled that I should avoid using words such as "man," "woman," "please," "thank you," "I'm sorry," "excuse me," "unmotivated," "late for work," "absent," or especially the use of any color word.
I must also avoid any reference to any illness, disability, or body parts. It seems that my mere utterance of such words might inflict painful memories from hundreds and/or thousands of years of oppression and create, in the minds of these employees, an unpleasant and illegal work environment.
I am prohibited from complimenting anyone on their attire or commenting that someone appears ill or may have a problem that requires empathy or sympathy. For example, if an employee is late (or chooses not to appear at work at all), I should realize that either they have a protected mental/physical illness and/or have a culture where timeliness or work ethic is not important. In fact, if my mere existence as an oppressor creates the perception of an inappropriate work climate in their minds, I can be punished. I can also be punished if they believe I am thinking hurtful, incorrect, or illegal thoughts.
Negative comments can be seen as hurtful or stereotypically prejudiced, too. Since praise and compliments are also illegal if the aggrieved party believes I am insincere, I have been professionally and legally counseled never to make comments that are either positive or negative, lest the person hewing them perceives them the wrong way. I was advised to avoid speaking to all employees and coldly ignore everyone.
It is particularly difficult to inconspicuously avoid the multi-hour luncheons, personal telephone calls, and endless hallway chitchat occurring each day in our government office. Even so, I stopped attending all such office social events so my existence would not offend our more sensitive employees. I now communicate only via memos and e-mails behind my closed office door. By offending everyone equally, I have a legal defense when I am sued because my existence as an oppressor created unpleasant thoughts for someone.
In effect, I have been directed to be terribly rude to everyone so no member of a victim group will feel that they are being treated more rudely than someone else is.
I would never dream to ask Miss Manners' permission to be rude. I would appreciate, however, suggestions for mitigating perceptions of rudeness in my politically correct work environment -- at least until I can retire from this living hell and once again use the common-sense manners that Miss Manners exhorts us to uphold.
P.S. Please excuse me for anonymously typewriting this on a word processor. My agency has handwriting analysis experts, can test for DNA, and has an established record of punishing "whistle blowers" and even innocent citizens.
GENTLE READER: Please excuse Miss Manners for hoping that you have a penchant for hyperbole. She despises that callous process now called "sensitizing," but can it be as bad as all that? Were you really told not to talk to anyone, or were you told that unless you learn to talk politely, it would be better not to say anything?
Politeness in a professional setting is different from social politeness, and can even be the opposite. Socially, it is rude to criticize people; at the work place, it may be a necessity. Professionally, it is rude to mention people's personal attractiveness; socially, it might be a necessity.
Miss Manners begs you to attempt to maintain a cheerful distance from your co-workers, neither indulging in personal conversation and jokes as you would with friends, nor snubbing them. If this does not meet the requirement, and if you were really enjoined to refrain from saying "please," then she begs you to blow the whistle.