Politically Correct? Or Just Correct?
On a nearly daily basis, I’m witness to a conversation where someone is preaching the gospel of rejecting “political correctness” to a receptive flock. We often see it when someone is discussing race, gender, sexuality or religion. Whenever there’s a grossly oversimplified newswire piece about the struggle of one group of people to reconcile their differences with another, or a story making headlines about a new set of rules being introduced into a place of work or education… there’s always somebody near by to chalk it all up to a grand conspiracy to adhere to some arbitrary set of rules designed to suck the fun out of everything and complicate life for the rest of society without reason.
Despite many conversations about it with friends, colleagues and strangers, I’ve never really been able to determine that something called political correctness actually exists. A friend suggested that when we remove all emotion from the equation, it is simply the perceived need to express ourselves in a different way than we would otherwise be inclined to so as to please others. Is that really vastly different than the concept of “politeness?” Moreover, the phrase is often used in protest over the idea that anyone should have to moderate their behaviour or the language they use to suit the needs of others. To which I ask this:
Instead of calling things “politically correct,” why don’t we simply use the word “correct?”
Instead of saying “I don’t need to be politically correct all the time!”, why not simply say “I don’t care if I’m correct all the time.” ?
It’s honest, it acknowledges that maybe someone was wrong and doesn’t take on further responsibility. There’s no easier out for someone who is truly unconcerned with the consequences of their actions who has offended someone in casual conversation or heated discussion. You can still be snide and dismissive about it all. Looking at conversations I’ve had with acquaintances in the past, I can picture it being used very easily. Something to the effect of “There’s too many people worried about being correct all the time, who cares what I say, it’s just words!”
For some, that may be too close to conceding defeat though, and don’t want to believe they are wrong or admit as much. We wouldn’t want to allow “political correctness” to win, would we?
When someone accuses you of using language or behaving in a way that unfairly wounds others, there’s a choice to be made. One choice is to immediately reject the premise and question the validity of the concern. This requires asking tough questions of one another and putting in effort to understand why it may be legitimate or why someone perceives it as such. Often this isn’t fun for either party but sometimes necessary. Sometimes there’s something to be learned from it and one may walk away from it with an increased perspective, or more likely: more questions to ask. An admirable response for someone not willing to simply take others at their word.
The other version of this choice is to simply reject the premise without regard for the truth or consequence and carry on. This effectively calls the accusation a lie, or suggests a belief that there is no legitimate concern. This probably doesn’t help anybody.
Another choice would be to just shrug it off and apologize, and pay no mind to it while possibly keeping in mind to avoid it in the future. I see this happen often, sometimes tainted with a general discomfort with the accuser and a negative connotation that they are taking something too seriously, whether or not their concerns are valid. It bears the outward appearance of being polite, and may be a missed opportunity to grow closer to someone while learning something, rather than growing further apart and learning little.
One can also agree while disagreeing with the relevance or magnitude of the alleged misstepping, and this may be a critical area of common ground in some instances. Why is a given situation worth fighting over? If we agreed on something being right or wrong, does it always matter?
Another choice: Preferably, with no other barriers in our way, we would be willing to listen and accept the idea that our perspective may be of limited scope and that concerns of others may have a validity that isn’t going to be easily obvious to us. It may not even be knowledge we can readily “acquire”, especially where centuries of history and intricate stories are involved.
However, dismissing people and their ideas of equality and basic respect outright with the notion that they’re only concerned with serving the cause of “political correctness” is completely disingenuous and a rather mean-spirited, pre-emptive passive aggressive attack on others who may have very good reasons for being concerned. Could they also be overreacting or expending effort on an incident of little ultimate consequence? Yes, they could be, but who is to decide this to be the case and why does it matter? The very nature of these exchanges place you in a role where you can’t know without presuming a few things or submitting to further discussion and eventually understanding their perspective.
Those who likely scoff and roll their eyes while frequently throwing the term “politically correct” around seem to be by my estimation, the people who feel most entitled to personal benefit from what we deem to be an acceptable way of speaking with one another. Somehow, their culture, way of life is being threatened when we seek equality for others. Speaking of others in disingenuous, disabling and downright hateful language is seen as having more value than whatever those affected by it stand to lose. I would suggest that this is decided upon without any earnest attempt to take stock or understand exactly what the cost is to those on the receiving end of these exchanges (or those being disparaged).
Some will go so far as to imply that their freedom of speech is being threatened, as if the simple right for others to exist and be who they are without their voice being taken away isn’t a violation of the basic concept of “freedom of speech” itself.
For some, the entire world is against them and all they want to do is be who they are and be left alone by an invisible, ever-present force called “The PC Police”. Yet, they’re often the first to rush to the judgement of the actions of others when it is convenient and exclaim things like “How dare you!” the moment dishonour is brought to the things they zealously hold in high regard.
Why does any of this matter? Isn’t this all more of the “PC” so many complain about?
It could be. Anything could be, as the concept of political correctness is so vague and unaccountable to any recognizable standard that it can be thrown onto a conversation about anything at all as a means of shutting down conversation and avoiding responsibility or admitting that ones ideas may be less than flawless.
The very idea of political correctness is more or less a giant straw man argument, recycled over and over again in lieu of taking responsibility for ones own actions. It is at best, the pinnacle of fence sitting. If you believe you’re opposing something or someone that is wrong, call it out for what it is and make your case. If you do not care and simply don’t like something or someone, then say so. If you’re uninterested in the consequences or why something is important to someone else, and won’t commit to understanding another point of view, maybe you’re simply uninterested in being correct (even if you happen to be).
Photo by Keith Allison Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Copyright 2013 A.W. Young