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You Be the Judge

As a business owner, how well do you handle controversy?

With rulings on smokestack emissions, the death penalty, and same-sex marriage handed down in the past few months, the Supreme Court has inflamed passions across the US. Rulings have soothed some and incensed others, with most of us swinging back and forth.

And then there are the social media slayings: thousand-word comments aimed not at informing a friend, but slashing down an enemy. It’s just that, on Facebook, that enemy is also a friend.

Most of us practice, at best, a piecemeal political correctness; there have become so many ways to be PC that it’s impossible to follow each rule.

We’re inconsistent at best, marking questions with a whisper among friends. Can I ask to hold the baby? Should I refer to it as a he or a she? Can I ask the gender, or am I implying, in the asking, that I’m not gender-neutral, or that I can’t tell? Should I be able to tell? Can I assume femaleness based on a pink onesie or … ?

Worse, still, is being asked those questions when you haven’t thought to consider them yourself.

And the wounds we all perpetuate are hard to heal. Is a ceasefire a trick buried in a truce? Is a concession speech really heartfelt? How much anger are we allowed on behalf of ourselves, our companies, our communities, or people half a world away? And finding ourselves angry, how many words can we squeeze into a rant about it, whether at the dinner table, with a sympathetic colleague, or in an ill-advised Facebook flare-up.

It’s like realizing you’re being undercut by a competitor, someone trying to squeeze you out by offering products at below-market rates. You can match him by undercutting yourself, but you risk profit loss. The only way to win is reputation, reliability, and customer service. Or like choosing a mechanic: No one just wants the cheapest one. We want the best value, and we’ll probably ask our friends how to find it (don’t delete that Facebook profile just yet).

It’s always a shock to find oneself in a minority stance, whether due to a Supreme Court decision, a glut of knockoff competitors, or a PC faux pas. But perhaps the most important thing is the response. Do you gleefully sharpen your blade when things swing your way? Or can you take a longer view, realizing you’ll be on the chopping block soon enough?

We’re all tempted to go on the warpath at times. I recently raised my eyebrows at an admonition that all trade magazines must provide a printed guide of vendors; I want to offer you something more valuable than a phone book in this online age. Peruse these pages, share your ideas, and take from them something that you can use – whether or not you agree with the methods or outcome presented. We’ll all emerge smarter.

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