When I was about 13 years old, a friend and I were sitting in my room, and for some reason I blurted out “oh sh*t!”.
From the hallway my mom yells,”Steve, you don’t say ‘oh sh*t.”
My friend, whose family was very strict and would likely get a paddling for something like this (yes, that was a thing back then), looked at me with dread. I was going to get it.
My mom followed up, “It’s not ‘oh sh*t’, it’s ‘ahh sh*t.’”
* used so as not of offend anyone 😉
Most kids learn to bake cookies from their mom. I learned to swear.
But I learned more than that. I learned that you have to hear beyond the words. For most parents, when the kids swore, that’s it, they swore. You aren’t allowed to do that.
For my parents, when a kid swore, it was because there was something behind it. A feeling. A concern. A fear. Something. Maybe even just a joke, but that was okay.
Focus on the message, not the words
So, for fifty years I have not been overly concerned with the actual words people use. The words are not the important thing, it is the message they are trying to convey. Yes, there are some words for which there may be but one, very bad, message. There are others for which there may be multiple meanings, or the meaning has morphed over time. When we hear these, too often we jump to the worst of options and stifle our ability to get the message behind it.
Being Politically Correct
Political correctness is the process of trying to say what you mean while using words that don’t offend others. It places the responsibility for communicating solely on the speaker or writer. This person must try to anticipate the perspectives of dozens, hundreds, thousands, or perhaps millions of people. It is literally impossible.
Relieved of all responsibility in this is the reader or listener. They can remain selfishly tied to their perspective, making no effort to understand that of the messenger. We are allowing ourselves to become increasingly lazy with each offence. We take solace in the notion that the messenger is deeply ignorant for using words which are so clearly offensive. Yet our own ignorance compounds with each message that gets blocked by our walls of political correctness.
Politics is a process
Politics is about the process of managing and improving our society. In this, we are all affected. Over the past few decades it became apparent that some people were left out of the process. They didn’t know how to engage because the words, messengers and topics of focus were not things they could relate to. We made a conscious decision to be mindful of how we said things so that others would be able to join in the conversation. The intention was noble.
As with so many things, the pendulum has swung too far. We have gone from trying to speak in such a way as to invite others, to trying to be sure no one is offended. One speaker responsible for 1000’s of perspectives, and it is stifling our ability to communicate effectively.
Political Correctness is no longer about the words we use, but about the very topics we can discuss. It is preventing us from doing the very thing politics is suppose to help societies do, work through and solve social problems.
When it comes to entertainment (comedy, music, etc), there really is no such thing as political correctness. There is only the suppression of creativity. These things are meant to push us, make us think in ways that may be uncomfortable, or hit us with something completely new to us. But, if we choose, we can block these things out and live in our buble. It is up to us.
If you find yourself offended by music, comedy, television just turn it off, switch the channel or learn to deal with it.
If find yourself being offended in the process of political discourse, try to look beyond the words and into the message they are trying to communicate. If the message is still unacceptable, target the message, not the messenger or the method used to convey it.
Though I have learned that the words you choose affect how others hear you, I also know that people need to learn to hear better.