I used to argue against “political correctness,” but not because I saw it as an attempt to curb my freedom of expression. I thought that good manners and politeness already covered the matter adequately. We didn’t need a new buzzword. “Politically correct” was right up there with “paradigm shift” in my list of eye-rollingly unnecessary corporate-speak. It wasn’t novel or original; it was euphemistic, I thought. According to Wikipedia:
The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated to PC or P.C.) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race. In public discourse and the media, it is generally used as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive.
Well, I’m not quite old enough to remember, but I’m sure there were folks down south, in the mid-1800s, who thought the Emancipation Proclamation was excessive. And later, the notion of giving women the vote? Excessive.
The older I get, the more I think we haven’t been excessive enough when it comes to teaching people good manners and an appreciation for their fellow human beings.
I used to think ten commandments were excessive. We really only need two: Be good to each other, and don’t f*** up creation. A Catholic friend pointed out that the first encompassed the last, so we really only needed one.
The way people look for loopholes to every little thing, we’ve ended up with whole libraries full of laws explaining, elucidating, and expanding upon what should have been simple. That’s excessive.
I remember standing in line for the rollercoaster at Six Flags San Antonio, when my daughter was young. I stepped in a hot baked mess of bright red, half-evaporated, sugary soda and bubblegum. “Gross!” I yelped. I glanced over sheepishly at the guy next to me. “Don’t you just wish, sometimes, you could smack someone over the head with a hard-bound copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette?” He agreed, smiling sympathetically as I stood there, pawing the asphalt like a mad bull, trying to get the sticky gunk off my shoe. It made a weird little squunk-pop sound every time I pulled my foot up and plunked it down. At one point, I lifted my foot right out of the shoe. The poor loafer was stuck to the ground. I pried it off with my toes as I hopped forward.
The guy laughed. “I wonder how many people would even recognize that title, anymore.” He sidestepped the goo as the line moved.
The same folks who decry “political correctness” and clamor for the right to be rude and aggressively offensive are the same ones who whine whenever someone finds them…offensive. It’s almost as if they want to deny the killing power of their own words. Of course, they’re often the same people who would deny the killing power of a gun. Or think that it’s perfectly fine to curtail my freedom to yell “Fire!” (when there is none) in a crowded theater, or to lie outright when selling a car, but won’t back sensible controls on gun ownership. Same Constitution… different rules?
But I digress.
I don’t get offended easily, and rarely do I get offended by people whose rudeness is obviously accidental; careless, thoughtless, habitual bigotry doesn’t spring from a vacuum – it’s learned over a lifetime, from family and community, and it’s hard for me to imagine putting these people in the stocks and throwing rotten produce at their heads in the public square. The accidentally offensive usually take an arched eyebrow and a lack of laughter as their cue to behave better. A few of them even become aware, gradually, of what they sound like. There’s hope for them.
I know all the best blonde jokes, by the way. A few are even funny.
But when someone sets out to be offensive, on purpose, it’s just silly and disingenuous when they act offended for being called out as rude, bigoted, misogynistic, hateful jerks. Hey, it’s their choice, right? Aren’t they supposed to smile and laugh and choose not to be offended? It’s almost as if they’re too embarrassed to admit that they meant to be hurtful, and not at all funny.
I looked for a Tweet to illustrate the point, found one, but it’s so nasty I don’t even want it on my blog. The original cartoonist appears not to have a Twitter account anymore, But you can see, someone’s jumped to their defense. “Nothing to do with race. Some people will stop at nothing to get offended.” OK, how about racist and misogynistic? Can I just comment with, “Dickhead”? (No, because that’s a microaggression against men, right?) OK, how about, “Puny little bundle of derivative mediocrity”?
Go ahead – click the link. (You’ve been warned.) Pile on if you like. I’ll wait. (Leave me a comment when this one vanishes from Twitter. I’ll find another to take its place.)
Gosh, my fellow liberal snowflakes – I think that one was meant to be offensive, don’t you? Probably the best thing we can do is to ignore the damned thing. Because you know they want to offend, just to get the attention they really crave.
[To put that earlier tweet into perspective, see this video.]
Intentions do matter – or should. I own the power of my words. If I mean to offend, I certainly will.
“When one woman strikes at the heart of another, she seldom misses, and the wound is invariably fatal.”
― Choderlos de Laclos,
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
― Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “Cardinal Richelieu” (1839)
If I didn’t mean to, but can see how I did, accidentally, I’m quick to apologize. And I mean it, I am sorry if I said or wrote or did something hurtful. (If I angered or offended you, we can talk it out. I never mean to hurt anyone.)
When I truly think that someone’s being overly sensitive about something I said, twisting it out of context and applying meaning to words that don’t mean what they think they mean, I’ll shake my head and walk away. I won’t ever demand, or give, an insincere apology. I do sometimes think that “political correctness” goes too far, eroding support and leading to inaction on more important problems – just like the little boy who cried wolf. The BBC makes that point better than I could: