On Political Correctness

Recently the idea of being politically correct has come under great scrutiny. One person in particular has launched a seemingly successful presidential campaign around the notion that political correctness is weakness and undermines our country.

I think most everyone is sick of political double speak. When someone tries to gain votes by skirting the truth, that doesn’t help anything. But much of what is being written off as too politically correct is more along the lines of taking care not to offend other people. Which I am not sure is a problem.

Maybe we are a bit too sensitive and overreact to things that used to be shrugged off without much thought.  Maybe we do need thicker skin. But maybe we need slower mouths and kinder dispositions too.

Maybe when we stop to ask what others are feeling and experiencing we improve ourselves. What if it is healthy for us to weigh our conversations and preconceived ideas and attitudes to see if they are selfish or inclusive? While I’m positive all of us could use a dose of maturity, perhaps much of what is labeled “politically correct” is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.

This isn’t a left/right/conservative/liberal issue. It is a human issue.

If mocking a person’s physical or mental limitations is applauded in a non-PC world, I want no part in that world.

If stereotyping and gross over-generalization of cultures and faiths and ethnicities is what our culture values, I want no part in that culture.

If the way we “Make America Great Again” is to say whatever comes to mind regardless of who is offended, I think we have different definitions of greatness.

We have a problem when we call people fat and ugly and losers without pause. Or when we refuse to use a filter and everyone else can just deal with it. We have a problem when we rebuff criticism because people nowadays are just too whiny.

These things are not politically incorrect. They are just incorrect.

Whenever people are mocked or ignored because of who they are or what they feel, we are in the wrong. Whenever people are dismissed because our experience doesn’t match theirs, we are in the wrong. Whenever we flippantly say, “I don’t care who this offends” we are in the wrong.

Instead we should give careful consideration to the words we use. We need to understand the gravity of the things that come out of our mouth and the environments we create. We should speak and act from a place that begins with others in mind, not ourselves.

We must start with seeing other people as, well, people. And valuing them for who they are right now. Even when we disagree. Even when we don’t understand. Even when it is easier to draw lines and pick sides and make fun.

Does that mean we never tell the truth? Never speak difficult words into someone’s life? Does it mean we never hold people accountable? Absolutely not.

But any time we hide behind “telling the truth” while degrading another person, our truth has little value. If our truth is not capable of helping or building up or making right, than it would be better for us to keep our truth to ourselves.

Perhaps the truth is best heard not in unfiltered language or knee jerk responses, but in seeking to understand who the other person is and where they are coming from. Maybe truth is most clear when the playing field is leveled. It is possible to hold strong opinions and specific values and disagree passionately while treating people with respect and common courtesy.

This is not weak or soft or whatever thing we are afraid of being when we say we no longer want to be politically correct. This is strength and selflessness and courage. This, I believe, is love.

This is the kind of world I want to play a part in. A world where people feel they belong, like they have a voice, like they have value simply because they exist. Because they do.

I believe when we give worth and consideration to other people we are not enabling them or coddling them or wounding them. I believe we are pulling up a chair at the table. We now sit eye to eye. We can have a conversation and break bread together. We can learn from one another.

When that happens we’ll be better for it. When that happens our language and politics and churches and dinner tables will be full of grace and truth. We don’t have to pick one or the other. Let’s do better.

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image source: kingkurtissmith.files.wordpress.com

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4 thoughts on “On Political Correctness

  1. Pingback: So. Much. Hate. | iamchrisgilmore.

  2. Well written Chris. As an older feminist I recall when the term “politically correct ” slipped into western culture. It was a term coined by conservative journalists in response to feeling threatened at new languages and freedoms being tested by women in particular. No feminist or person of colour or LGBT person ever used the term as a rebuke but one day it had permeated so much mass media that it Seemed that way. All change in society brings out new words such as “Christian” which may have originated as an insult! Your article is spot on; what essentially was a request for common courtesy has been degraded through this expression, spread by people who need to feel dominant – which is sad because it’s not like the patriarchy has really been toppled, or even greatly threatened. Thank you for your insight.

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