Rethinking political correctness.

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Political correctness can definitely be taken to ridiculous extremes, as these cartoons show. 

In previous posts, I’ve sometimes criticized political correctness.  It’s true that in recent years, political correctness (PC-ness) has gone too far, and people are afraid to say what they mean because it might offend someone.    PC-ness can be taken to ridiculous extremes.  For example, a child today can get in a world of trouble — up to and including arrest — for something as innocent as drawing a picture of a gun.   Companies are afraid to hire a white person who may be a better fit for a job if a black candidate is also qualified.  People are afraid to say “Merry Christmas” because it might offend non-Christians, but they’re also afraid to say “Happy Holidays” because it might offend Christians (so what are you supposed to say??)  Parents are afraid to discipline their children because someone might call the authorities and their children could be taken away.   Of course, there are limits to what constitutes proper discipline of a child.  Obviously, if you see a parent beating their child or hurling insults at them, this is abuse, not just discipline, and there should be consequences.  But is it proper to report a parent for lightly slapping a toddler’s hand because she’s reaching for something that could hurt her or break?  Yet such actions are regularly reported as “abuse.”  Parents are afraid to be parents.   We can’t say what we mean because someone might be offended, even if no insult is intended.   During the holiday season, it might be better to just say nothing at all.

In spite of the problem of political correctness being taken to extremes, there is a place for it.  Political correctness is really nothing more sinister than showing respect for others.   It means practicing the Golden Rule, which we all learned in kindergarten and would behoove us to keep practicing as adults because it makes everyone’s lives so much easier and more pleasant, including our own.   Political correctness is about being a good neighbor and a good citizen.  It’s caring about the way others feel.    When it’s not taken to extremes, political correctness makes our relationships with others and within our communities a heck of a lot easier.   But people get all up in arms over the term itself.   Why is that?   I think the term “political correctness” irritates people more than the actual practice of it, because of its its associations with the “liberal elite,” a group that many conservatives distrust, dislike, and simply cannot relate to. But showing respect and empathy for others, even if they’re different than we are, is not about partisan politics.   The Golden Rule applies to everyone and benefits everyone, regardless of political party, economic status, race, religion, or creed.

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We have a president who takes pride in his lack of political correctness.  He insults people and calls them names and calls this behavior honesty.     Many of his followers think of Trump’s antipathy toward PC-ness as one of his greatest strengths, but the truth is, Trump’s version of “honesty” (something he definitely is not) is nothing more than schoolyard bullying, and most of what he says is not true anyway.     His language and bullying manner not only hurts people who have done nothing wrong (other than being critical of Trump or his policies), it also encourages hatred and intolerance among his followers.   Since Trump’s election, suddenly it’s okay for people to bully others who are not like them, since Trump does the same thing.    It’s okay to demean and insult Muslims, Mexicans, women, gays, Democrats, the liberal media, and other groups Trump looks down on because Trump does it and seems to think it’s okay.   It’s become okay to dehumanize and target people who aren’t the same as we are or who don’t agree with us.

Recently, I read there’s even been an uptick in school bullying since Trump got elected.  Bullies everywhere and of all ages feel empowered because the president does it and seems to think there’s nothing wrong with it.   Some critics of political correctness think it means stuffing your feelings and wearing a fake smile all the time, but that is just not true.   We don’t have to go around grinning like idiots (was it un-PC to use that term?) and pretending to like people we don’t or be happy with situations that make us miserable, but that doesn’t give us the right to go around insulting and demeaning others for no reason other than that we find their differences offensive.

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Sadly, this attitude about political correctness is very widespread today.  

 

Trump is giving the world the wrong idea of what strength is all about.   In his strongman world, dictators and authoritarian leaders are admirable because they rule with an iron hand and victimize and punish those who oppose them.   Civilized discourse, peaceful negotiation, and compromise is seen as weakness.   This is why he’s the only president in living memory who has not included the opposing political party in his decision making.  In fact, all he does is insult Democrats (even though he used to be one himself), sabotages their efforts (as he is by refusing the pay Obamacare subsidies), and then blame them when things inevitably go wrong (“Obamacare is DEAD!”).    This is a divide-and-conquer strategy narcissists and sociopaths like Trump are infamous for.

Real strength means showing respect and compassion for others.    It means  refraining from calling people insulting names when someone says something critical of you (as long as the criticism isn’t abusive), and maybe even learning something from it.   It means lifting others up instead of working to oppress them and keep them down.  It means encouraging people instead of trying to sabotage or insult them.   It means being inclusive instead of exclusive.  It means working to find common ground instead of encouraging divisiveness.   And it means being PC sometimes too, if by political correctness we mean showing respect for our fellow human beings, regardless of how different from us they might be.    Granted, political correctness is sometimes taken too far, but Trump’s dangerous lack of it is off the rails, and is a threat to our democracy and to the world.  Civility is in short supply these days. If we really want to “make America great again,” we need to return to a culture of civility, common courtesy, and neighborliness.

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Rethinking political correctness.

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On January 13, 2015, I wrote an article criticizing political correctness, explaining that it was a tactic some narcissists use to control others.   According to Charlton Heston, political correctness was tyranny wrapped in a happy face.     He wasn’t altogether wrong.

Toward the end of that post, I wrote,

I do not believe in political correctness, at least not when it’s taken to ridiculous extremes the way it sometimes is. We live in such a litigious society and almost everything can be construed as offensive. It can get pretty ridiculous.

From another post of mine (June 2, 2015) called Narcissists Use Political Correctness to Control:

It’s a huge irony that at the same time we worship the material over the spiritual, the rich and callous over the poor and kind, the corporation over the individual, the aggressive and ruthless over the empathetic and cooperative, that we insist on something called “political correctness.” This ties in closely with a concept we call “zero tolerance.” It’s gotten so extreme that if we tap our child on the rear-end in Wal-Mart, we could be charged with child abuse. If a young boy draws a picture of a gun, they could go to jail.

Later in the same post, I wrote:

We have euphemisms for everything. We have to watch everything we say for fear of offending some or another group of people. Political correctness, we are told, exists so we don’t hurt someone’s feelings or insult a group of people, whether they be of a certain nationality, race, have a particular disability or mental illness, or sexual preference. But I don’t think that’s the real reason for political correctness. I think the real reason is control. If we have to watch everything we say and walk around on eggshells for fear of offending someone, then we become anxious and fearful. That’s the way the narcissistic Powers That Be want us: scared to death and easily controlled. Zero tolerance is another way they can control us.

 

I still believe there is much truth to all this, and in general, I still believe that in recent years, political correctness has gone too far.    We’re afraid to say anything at all or express our real feelings about things, because someone might be offended.   As this cartoon shows, political correctness can be taken to ridiculous extremes:

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For all its problems, there is still much to be said for political correctness — when it isn’t taken to ridiculous extremes or used to control others.   Political correctness came about because during the 1960s and 1970s, as people became more aware of racism, sexism, and all the myriad ways society tries to separate itself from “people who are not like us,”  it became no longer socially acceptable to call black people the “N” word, gay people “faggots,” or the cognitively challenged the “R” word.    We realized these people were human beings just like us with feelings, and those feelings ought to be respected.    The color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their cognitive or physical abilities didn’t make them any less human or any less prone to being emotionally hurt.

Due to the feminist movement of the 1970s, we also stopped referring to grown women as “girls,” although mature women do still use that term among themselves to refer to each other in a joking, informal kind of way (“I’m having lunch with the girls”).  We also stopped referring to them as “the weaker sex,” which they are certainly not, at least not mentally or emotionally (even though due to their smaller size, there may be truth to women being physically weaker than men).   Of course, being thought of as “weaker” did tend to bring out chivalrous behavior in men (opening doors or holding out a seat, etc. — which most of us still appreciate and recognize as a courtesy rather than an insult to our strength or competence).

So these days it’s pretty unsettling and appalling when we hear a lawyer in a rape case publicly refer to women as “the weaker sex”  or a new President brag about how he can “grab ’em by the pussy.”   It’s upsetting when that same president made fun of a disabled journalist during his campaign by imitating his awkward motions like some 9 year old bully on the playground — and got away with it.    Such behaviors and insults go way beyond thumbing your nose at political correctness and the need to having to watch everything you say.   They show a lack of respect and a callous disregard for our fellow human beings and don’t allow them any dignity.    There’s nothing noble or admirable about having no filter and not caring who you injure with your words.

When public figures callously and openly insult others,  they teach the world that it’s okay to bully and make fun of others who are different from you — especially when they get applauded for it.      Already, teachers, parents, and others who are closely involved with educating children are reporting an increase in bullying behavior in schools, especially toward people of color or non-Christians.   The kids are thinking, if the President of the United States can get away with treating others that way, well, why can’t I?   They wouldn’t be wrong to think that way.   Kids imitate the behavior of adults, especially those in the public eye such as celebrities and politicians.   Why should they listen to some teacher tell them it’s wrong to insult other kids for things they have no control over, when the President himself does it?

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It seems like civility and politeness are things of the distant past.    We are a polarized nation, with both major parties routinely flinging vitriol and insults at the other party.    While this is to be expected in dark political times when so much is at stake,  it’s unsettling that such barbaric and disrespectful behavior seems to have become the norm even outside the political sphere.  It’s even more disturbing that we excuse it by applauding the bullies for daring to be rogues through their refusal to be “slaves” to political correctness.

Like most other things in life, political correctness can be a negative thing when taken to extremes and certainly can interfere with freedom of speech (as some of its critics have pointed out).    But that doesn’t mean there’s not a need for it.   “Political correctness” is really just the politically correct way to say “respect and kindness toward others” and “do unto others what you would have others do unto you.”    Until Trump’s election, many people (understandably) got so burned out on the political correctness movement that they pushed back against it — so much so that they admired and applauded a man who seemed to thumb his nose at political correctness at every opportunity and seemed to be proud of his propensity to fling hurtful insults at people who were different from him.

We all need to relearn the Golden Rule, which we were taught in Kindergarten but seem to have forgotten.   Being civil and courteous doesn’t mean we give up our constitutional right to freedom of speech.   It doesn’t mean we have to always wear a happy face and lie to others and pretend we love everyone when we don’t.    We don’t have to be fake.  But we do need to learn all over again what it means to listen to each other, to be civil to each other even when we disagree, and to not judge others harshly by things they cannot control, such as their physical or mental abilities, color of their skin, gender, or sexual orientation; or cultural differences such as their religion, cultural beliefs, or creed.   We need to relearn manners and basic civility,  and that means to know when to keep our mouths shut.   If we are thinking hateful thoughts about someone due to something they cannot help and express those thoughts openly, we help no one.  All we do is hurt others and make ourselves look like ignorant jerks.