Politeness, Profanity, and Political Correctness

Political correctness is, to some people, the practice of eliminating language and practices which could offend certain political sensibilities. It is, to these people, a standard erected to protect those of various marginalized groups who are likely to be victimized by the language and actions of others.  To other people, political correctness is an ever growing list of taboos that makes everyone a bigot and threatens western liberalism`s tradition of freedom of expression. I suggest that the term “political correctness” has been lost to partisanship. To be against it makes you a racist, bigoted, privileged, white supremacist. To be for it makes you a whiny, liberal, freedom-hating baby. Terms get lost like that sometimes. 

The term has also become a blanket criticism that is used to avoid listening to someone. On the one hand there are many things that may or may not be true that cannot be said even in traditionally open settings (like universities or comedy clubs) because those things are not politically correct. On the other hand, there is an arbitrary set of ideas that can be easily dismissed because they are labeled “politically correct.” For example: I have an interest in being clear when you communicate. It is important that people understand what you say. So, I like to use the word “men” to refer to male humans, and use words like “people” or “humans” to refer to potentially mixed-gender groups. Some have blown me off saying that I am “just being politically correct.” To which I have responded, “No, I am being grammatically correct.” The mere existence of the term “politically correct” is poisonous to our conversations. It is used by the left against the right and by the right against the left. 

So I want to suggest a brand new word to take it’s place. This new word has never been used before. I made it up just for this article.

The new word is: polite. This word that I just made up to fill this gaping void to describe the best way for people to talk to and treat each other happens to be in the dictionary for some reason. Here is what it means according to oxforddictionaries.com

Having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people.

How radical is that?

There are two significant parts to this definition: respect, and consideration. Respect is recognizing the basic dignity that comes with being a human being. Other people are worthy of at least basic respect even if they are different from you. If their politics, understanding of gender roles, religion, sexual preferences, or whatever do not line up with yours, that is fine. You still must respect them. 

Consideration is the second part. Consideration is how we exercise the respect. Consideration is using your heart and your brain to care about another person’s perspective, feelings, and experiences. I don’t have any idea what it is like to be a person who is trans-gendered, homosexual, and Muslim. A person fitting that description probably doesn’t know what it is like to be a cis-gendered, straight, white, more-or-less Evangelical male like me. But we do both have human bodies and we are deeply interested in living. 

Now, if you are one of those people who do not think that other human beings deserve a basic level of respect, and you do not think there is any reason for you to be considerate of others then I honestly do not know how to help you. There is a lot of misery in your future and I feel sorry for you. I hope you can change.

For the rest of us, this is not that difficult. Here are some practical tips:

  • If someone does not want to be called something, try not to call someone that.
  • If someone calls you something you don’t like, try to forgive them, correct them gently when appropriate, and move on.
  • If you get corrected for saying something hurtful, apologize, and move on.
  • If a TV show, radio broadcast, music performance, sporting event, or whatever offends you: either listen closer and force yourself to grow in compassion and understanding towards other people or turn it off. Either way works.
  • Don’t freak out when privileged people complain about their problems: they have them too.
  • Don’t freak out when people call people similar to you “privileged.” If you start counting your blessings there is probably always someone less privileged than you.
  • Shut the hell up and listen to people different than you.

There are real problems in the world, and we will never all agree on which problems are most real. You may not think that racism is a real problem in America, but a lot of your fellow Americans do. You should listen. You may not think that straight, white men are justified in starting to feel like they are losing their country to forces they do not understand, but you need to listen to them. 

Some of us are going to have to be wronged. Some of us are going to have to listen to some nonsense. We aren’t all going to get the justice we deserve. Someone, somewhere, will have to stop demanding and start giving. Someone will have to shut up and listed rather than be heard. The cycle of offense and counter-offense has to stop. We are all going to have to let go of things, even those who have already given so much or had so much taken from them. What we cannot let go of is the basic dignity of human beings, ourselves included, and the challenging work of being considerate. 

What about you? Who do you need to work harder to be respectful and considerate of? What do you think other people need to be more considerate of?



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