Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Words and Political Correctness

I had the opportunity the other day to participate in a terrific community discussion about political correctness, specifically referencing things like A-line ribbed tank tops, the use of the word "rape" in a gaming environment and others. And I want to explore the idea of political correctness here. No links or anything, just trying to iron out some ideas and see what they are.

I want to set some hyperbole aside. When we talk about social political correctness, we are not talking about laws at any level. There are no Jack Booted Language Police. We are simply dealing with social norms. And those can very from nation to nation, culture to culture, house hold to house hold. And just like every other social norm, we are all constantly juggling one to another as we go through our days and our lives.

No law, no physical impediment keeps you from using a politically incorrect word or phrase or idea in conversation or media. The gripe is that if you do value your right to a word over the potential offense or harm it may cause, your may be viewed as someone that does exactly thatThe problem is not the use of this word or that word. They can still be used. The only penalty is that your peers may, may see you as someone that values their right to a word over their hurt, offense, or harm. 

The social price of political incorrectness is being thought of as an asshole. 

I want you, Gentle Reader, to know that I did not start over here, although I wish I had. I started over there, demanding my rights to words and other people's right's to words. I am a greater fan of the 1st Amendment than the 2nd Amendment - and I value them both quite highly.

I had not considered every one else's right to exist at least with my indifference, if not any benevolence. But those other people, they should not have to guard themselves every time they are among other people. They should not walk in fear that I may throw them back to an abusive marriage or a sexual assault just because they had to go to the store. They should expect the world to be as indifferent, neutral, or benevolent to them as you expect it to be for you.

What happens when you are brought to someone else's pain is that you are being trusted with it. If I say to you that a particular phrase or word is upsetting to me, you have two decisions to make:
  • You either believe, or not. I have a responsibility to be honest, and I will probably even try to be patient if my situation is not one that you could have been expected to be tuned into. But then you either believe me, and take me at my word that something is offensive to me personally or maybe I say that as one of their number, some of these folks are offended by that. You can educate yourself as much as you like later, that would actually be great. But in this moment, it is simple trust issue.
  • You either care, or not. While that may sound cruel to the person being asked to stop offending, upsetting, or harming - I guarantee that it is less cruel then being asked to forgive or ignore someone while they knowingly do harm to you whenever, however they see fit, forever. Because whatever burden you carry is simply unimportant to them. 
That is it. 
  • If you believe and care, you work to change a language habit (you do not really "lose" a word in any actual sense), and you show a wounded someone that there is at least one person out there not willing to knowingly hurt them further. 
  • If you care but don't believe, you start asking or teasing about exactly that harmful thing, maybe discounting the very idea, or act like the stated harm is over-reacting. Hey, maybe you ask friends and strangers around you if this thing "is really offensive?" Because: 1st Amendment. You may change your language use if you do research that confirms, or other people concur.
  • If you do not believe and do not care, then you will change nothing about your habits, maybe dig into the wound a little bit, you know, to prove it is not there. Because: "plenty of people go through more and aren't crying." 
  • If you believe and do not care, then hopefully you are apathetic, but maybe you dig into that wound often and deep, you know, to help them "get over" their sensitivity. Maybe you envision yourself as some sort of Devil's Advocate. As if the person trying to trust you has not had enough of true adversaries.
There are other options, and many other factors that may influence a particular situation, but I am comfortable with those four as likely types of outcomes.

I have said before, and I truly believe it: "Political correctness is a quick and easy guide to avoid being seen as an asshole if you are not, in fact, an asshole."

I truly do not understand how being conscientious of another person's history, or that of a group of people, is walking on eggshells, or some other surrender of personal power. Why is it a problem to have to think about these people with a problem? Surely they have to consider you. Why is it not a instead a strength to be in a more grounded, solid group free or nearly free of such angst, pain, distrust, suspicion and harm?


  1. Excellent post. I think I will have to bookmark this to send to people!

    1. Thanks, Kasi - I am glad you found it useful!


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