What's Wrong with Political Correctness?
Updated: May 20, 2019
During the Trump presidential campaign, we were taught that being “politically correct” (or PC) is a basic obstacle to expediency and avoiding or ignoring it assists with the resolution of our problems. But, what is political correctness? Is it not a self-awareness that our actions and words can be damaging and offensive to people we do not fully know? Or, is it the use of words received poorly only by those with a thin skin and a petty inconvenience to monitor how we behave and speak?
People do get their feelings hurt. It’s a fact of life. And, it’s true that some people are more easily hurt than others. However, none of us is completely immune to the “slings and arrows” of a complicated and hectic existence.
The real difference lies in the offender, more so than the receiver of the hurt. Does a person care enough about others to want to avoid hurting their feelings or disturbing them? Do they have the patience to think before they speak? Are they sufficiently self-aware to realize how they may be received by others? Our ability to live with others, survive, and be productive is dependent on the civility of our communities and the willingness of others to work with us toward common goals.
At times, we may be unable to avoid offending sensibilities. This happens when we simply do not know any better. We are unaware of a person’s background or personal story because their situation is so foreign to us we cannot conceive that our behavior will offend them in the way it will. We might call this cultural incompetence or “emotional blindness” when it is purely out of ignorance of a culture or person’s story. However, people who have deep concern for others feelings try to anticipate the possibility of being offensive or they make the effort to become culturally competent beforehand. For example, someone suffering from a disfiguring disease would likely be offended if a question were to be asked or a comment made about their appearance. Most of us would simply avoid those questions because we realize our ignorance and the likelihood that we will be offensive, in some way, even if we are uncertain as to how.
The term “politically correct” is often used as an invective criticism of those who want to be careful and not be offensive. However, it can also be purposely ignored by those who do want to insult a culture or a person’s sensibilities for a particular purpose. These people are expressing a view that may be offensive to some, but perhaps not to all. This is not due to a lack of PC, but instead an intentional desire to take a position outside of a PC norm and ignore the feelings of those offended.
We can learn to accept socially clumsy people when we recognize them and choose not to be offended. We can also decline to call out political incorrectness. We do this because to behave otherwise will offend them. Political correctness is not a deficiency. It demonstrates a willingness to seek kindness, civility, cultural competence, and emotional maturity.