Lately the phrase politically correct is tossed around like it’s dirty at best, dangerous at worst. As I searched for images to include with this post every single quote was a slam about the idiocy of political correctness. Every. Single. One.
I have a great deal of respect for Stephen Fry and I appreciate the context of this quote. When people are trying to limit the legal rights of others simply because they are offended but otherwise unaffected they need to just shut up. Or, I guess they can whine but that’s it. Stop trying to pass laws or prevent the changing of current laws simply because you’re offended.
But what if someone isn’t trying to pass laws or otherwise infringe upon the rights of others? What if the person standing up to say they’re offended is simply trying to raise consciousness where none previously existed?
When I was a kid it was completely acceptable to call someone retarded when you didn’t like what they were doing. The go to insult these days seems to be calling people gay. When people say they are offended by these things it’s easy to have a knee jerk reaction that they are just being politically correct and ignore it. We don’t want to come to the point where we have to think about and choose every word carefully because we may offend someone. But in the examples above shouldn’t we be thinking twice?
I taught special education for three years and worked with some really great kids who had an official diagnosis of mental retardation. I’m offended on their behalf when I hear someone use the word retarded because I’ve seen those kids be hurt by the casual use of the word. I’m offended when people use the word gay as an insult because words matter. When we, as a society, agree that it’s okay to use gay as an insult we collectively agree that people who are gay are second class citizens. The fact that you don’t mean any harm with your words doesn’t mean that you don’t do any harm with them.
Yet, right now people on every side of every argument are extremely proud of being politically incorrect. After all, aren’t politically correct people just sheep who bleat back whatever they ‘re told?
Well, sometimes yes. Sometimes people don’t really think a lot and, as I said earlier, are so worried about being offensive that they don’t stand up for injustice. But here’s the rub; people use the badge of political incorrectness in the same way. Being politically incorrect doesn’t automatically mean you’re thinking for yourself either.
All too often I hear people say that they don’t care about political correctness in an attempt to mask their own prejudices. What they really mean is that they don’t care if their racist, homophobic, misogynistic ideas are from the dark ages; they’re going to cling tightly to them and find a way to feel like they are the brave one in this scenario.
I don’t consider it to be particularly brave or intelligent to be either politically correct or incorrect. These phrases have become a bit meaningless in our culture anyway. So, political correctness isn’t my goal but when it’s pointed out to me that someone finds something I said offensive it gives me pause. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll change or ultimately agree that it’s offensive. But I at least consider it.
So, does that mean we’re back to that idea about feeling on edge and having to choose every word carefully? Isn’t that just exhausting? Well, sometimes I suppose it is but I don’t think is has to be. When my only motivation is not offending other people then yes, it’s exhausting. But if I truly entertain those thoughts and try to figure out if I accept them because the offended person has a point it’s a bit easier to eliminate certain words and phrases from my vernacular. Ultimately if my goal is compassion, not political correctness or incorrectness, it’s not so difficult.