There is such power in a single act of kindness.
And so much potential when we try to understand.
Why do we use the term ‘political correctness’?
First used in Soviet Russia in the early 20th century – to describe behaviours that toed the Communist party line — it’s morphed into a Western insult.
From reading comments made online and in print articles, and talking to a few friends, I gather it’s a term used by members of any powerful/majority group (e.g. Whites, Christians, Able-bodied, Male, Non-Immigrant, etc.). But it goes beyond those groups.
I also gather that the term gets used when we are about to say something unkind, or pass on a negative generalization about a member or members of a group.
And it’s also used to decry behaviours that we consider too polite, too considerate of others.
Can there be such a thing as being too polite?
If it means rejecting a Christmas tree in your workplace where the majority of people are Christians — even though people of other religions are welcome to bring in artifacts that celebrate their own religious holidays — then that’s not polite. It’s stupefying.
If it means avoiding certain topics or individuals because we are not brave enough to engage — or even to ask questions about their differences from us — then that’s not polite. It’s cowardly.
Think how much we will never learn, because we are too scared of seeming impolite.
But I find that, too often, when someone decries ‘political correctness’, it’s a way of saying:
“I should be free to say anything I want, about any individual or social group that I want, without having to suffer the consequences or even think about the people I’ve hurt.”
Such ideas make people careless, unkind and even hateful. What is worse, that behaviour is often directed to those who are not powerful enough to hurt them back.
We learn it when we’re children: words have power.
Words can comfort, uplift, enlighten, but words can also hurt, damage, devastate.
I have reached the stage in life — after much suffering and reflection — to know that being considerate to others doesn’t mean weakness. It means strength. It is so much easier to generalize, overlook and dismiss people than to try to understand them.
103 thoughts on “Political Correctness”
Well said, it’s all about kindness, to me. I have great hope for the future, and I think this debate will die out when the next generation of children take charge. My daughter and her peer group all have grown up in a world (and also thank to our public education system) where they’ve learned to be considerate, kind and understanding of difference. 🙂
What a welcome prospect that is. I find my daughters correcting me whenever I generalize about others, and I have to stop and check myself.
Ahhh, my daughter does the same thing. 🙂
Well written post about a charged topic! I agree and love your last line Cynthia. Free speech is important, but not at the expense of kindness, and taking the time to understand those with different perspectives is so much harder and enriching. Thanks for leading the way!
Well said, Brad. We are all for free speech until it costs us something.
LOVE this post! Hear, hear! As a Franco-American growing up in Maine, I had to endure too many remarks and jokes about how innately stupid I was because I was of French descent. This extended not only to my whole family but also to the whole ethnic group. Very toxic! As I recently read, if being politically correct means being respectful of those who come from different ethnic groups. then I am politically correct every single day.
Me too, Laurie. I sure try to be respectful.
I am sorry to hear about those remarks. So many things are based on ignorance — as is prejudice.
Yes, as a fellow Franco observed, it is the way of the world. It doesn’t make such ignorant behavior right, but his remark gave me some perspective. Now, I try my darnedest to never, ever peg anyone by ethnic group, nationality, whatever. I know too well what that feels like.
I hear you. What’s surprising is when someone who has felt the pain, turns around and does it to others.
I think Political Correctness exists because people have forgotten how to be kind and respectful. It is a true shame that people have to be reminded to behave in a certain way because they weren’t instructed as children. It’s easy to say racist and derogatory things but there are consequences to such speech.
There are consequences, indeed. And if the movement of a butterfly’s wings can cause bigger actions to happen, I wonder what we set in motion when we say bigoted things?
I do think that being kind and respectful sometimes takes effort, but the effort is most times worth it.
Mother Theresa’s insistence on seeing God in the face of everyone she met affected me. Trying to do that changed me for the better. But I note that she also added later (when confronted by a truly miserable sod): “There goes God in one of his distressing disguises.”
I couldn’t agree with you more, Cynthia…especially your thoughts on the Christmas tree. Recently I heard about a fire station being told they couldn’t have the American flag or decals of the flag on their trucks. Really? What a joke. Great post!
Jill, I’d like to hear the reasoning behind that one….
Cynthia, one of my first thoughts when I read this is that you must be following the joke that is a certain portion of our current election proceedings here in the U.S.
I have so many thoughts about being p.c. that I could write a book … so I won’t use your comment space. 🙂 it’s such a fascinating, complex topic with pros and cons. But I will share a quote that is relevant (and one that I found for a job that I’m currently working on) – “Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” ~ Marian Wright Edelman.
“Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.” ~ Marian Wright Edelman.
Jeanne, I love this statement. Thanks for it.
Let us study and practise kindness – whatever else it may be called.
This is a thorny problem. Of course good people everywhere hope that there will be kindness always. So…doesn’t that mean we must also be tolerant of the intolerant, kind to the unkind, allow free speech and not tell others how to speak or how to think? When we insist that some speech and behavior is “correct” or even “kind”, and such a view is not universally shared, that can be a form of aggression. Lately I am seeing a lot of people who accuse others of hate being pretty hateful themselves. I have worked in academia where certain words and certain opinions are currently silenced because they are deemed “incorrect” or “unkind” to certain identity groups. If you differ from the prevalent sociopolitical opinions, you are marginalized at least, or at most may lose your job. That is a toxic, hellhole of political correctness, and should really be called what it is: censorship.
Could not have said it any better Cynthia. Your last line says it all ~
Thanks for this, Cynthia.
I cannot comment on your own experience, but I immediately wanted to know more. I can see that what you experienced not only offended you, but perhaps hurt you as well.
As you can tell from my post, extremism of any kind bothers me. Extremism doesn’t understand empathy, consideration, respect or kindness to those who refuse to subscribe. It definitely doesn’t understand “agreeing to disagree”.
I never had to suffer the restrictions of full-time immersion in academia, especially one made toxic by extreme censorship.
But when we work together, it shouldn’t be ‘anything goes’.
My generation of women fought for our rights in the hitherto male workplace of television journalism. But we also had to be very careful with what we said and how we fought back. One small example: as the youngest female executive producer at the network level, I had to walk through a passage leading to the studio where we taped our shows. Pictures of young naked/nearly nude women in suggestive poses adorned those walls, as were tabloid headlines and hand-written remarks that were offensive to the women who saw them.
If I’d protested, I’d have been called a cry-baby to my face, worse behind my back. Women were expected to put up with such behaviour.
People who think they’ve cornered the market on ‘rightness’ scare me. At the same time, the term ‘political correctness’ irks me, because it gets brandished so often, and so weirdly. In its worst usage, the term is used as a club to beat others we disagree with, or to justify our bad behaviours. Either way, it sure closes off discussion.
I’ve learned from hard experience that not listening, and not trying to understand, can lead to a world of unkindness, hurt and trouble.
So when someone explains why they’re hurt by what I may well have intended as an innocent statement, I try to listen, and maybe even to understand.
As Lavinia says, the Golden Rule goes a far way.
I have always liked the English word “kindness” because it has “kin” in it, to remind us that we are one human family.
Perhaps there will never be an end to the challenges with this, but let’s hope we will never lack the good will to try, always remembering that “words can comfort, uplift and enlighten…” as you yourself said, and practice so well.
Cynthia, my wise blogger friend: Only a poet would discern that (what you wrote in that first sentence). Thank you.
You just reminded me of that saying which supposedly was once on a sign outside Winchester Cathedral: “You are entering a conversation that began long before you were born, and will continue long after you are dead.”
I had no idea of the origins of this term and thank you for enlightening me!
Reblogged this on DiversiPro Inc. and commented:
The term “political correctness” has become code for so many things lately; from conversations about women and racial and ethnic minorities. It has become a license for some people to say anything they want, about any individual or social group without having to suffer the consequences or even think about the psychological or physical hard inflected.
Thank you for reblogging! I’m honoured.
Cynthia, I am currently reading Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan and learning much about the origins of depravity. I’m enlightened to learn the origin you mention.
Thanks for mentioning this book, Donna. And I’m sorry for only just replying to your comment!
Yes, kindness is very important – and that includes thinking about the words we choose to use.
Yes. I often fall short of that standard myself. We keep trying.
Trying is the best we can do!
Well said Cynthia. I agree with you. Perhaps we should forget the term Political Correctness, it wouldn’ t be necessary if we all taught our children good manners and respect for other people and to be kind and considerate.
That’s an excellent idea. Perhaps then we’d have to say what exactly we mean and be open to a conversation that may lead to enlightenment on both sides. I know I can’t believe in everything that others believe or even agree with them on most things. But I can do my best to show good manners and respect.
Very true and wise! Political correctness can be taken to the extreme both ways. Kindness and respect both ways should prevail!
Yes, and we all know the perils of taking things to the extreme. (Well,except for eating blueberries at this time of year. I think I shall go blue any day now…)
I think good old common sense would help most of us navigate our way through the political correctness fetish.
Good ole common sense: a virtue to be devoutly (but not extremely) desired….)
So true Cynthia! I believe there is more kindness and good people in the world than the news media and governments would have us believe. We hear about the people who blame, react, retaliate and spread fear. We do not hear about the quiet majority who welcome, engage in conversation, seek to understand and who live outside the conventions of organised religion, political brain-washing and media hysteria. We are here, quietly spreading our message through our actions – and writings 🙂
I do, too. And they are everywhere across the so-called ‘divides’. I especially like your last two sentences. Thank you.
Such a good analysis, Cynthia. Here in the States, it’s often self righteous lefties implementing it and crazy right-wingnuts protesting, shouting past each other rather than having the conversation you suggest. I sigh…most of us would rather be kind than rigidly correct.
Gee whiz, I couldn’t help smiling at the picture that conjured: Self-righteous lefties and crazy right wingnuts… Actually, I laughed. Both are alive and well and living among my family and circle of friends. I love them equally, too!
I’ve got them both as well. Can’t invite them to the same parties, though!
I try to head them off at the pass by saying: “No politics or religion!” My dear ones generally behave themselves, but there is always one…. Gotta love ’em!
Oooh, I had a 4th of July party that taught me a lesson…Just because I love them doesn’t mean they’ll love each other! Though with family, the stricture seems to work.
I know exactly! How can they love me and not like each other? Yikes.
These are such crucial insights, Cynthia. I had a powerful experience when I was conducting a research study exploring Ojibwe child welfare. The director of the county agency that controlled funding and services for all county residents, including Ojbiwe tribal members, made a point of telling me he hated the notion of cultural competence. He then stated, “There is no Ojibwe culture any more. They’re no different than us.” It’s a perspective that has significant implications for they types of services and interventions that were funded.
My observations convinced me that there were, in fact, very different cultures involved, especially when it came to the role of extended families. After repeated interviews over the course of a year, the director began, on his own, to question his previous assumptions. During our last interview, he raised a question. “I wonder how the tribe defines family?” A small step, but I’ve learned that one can’t force people to change their views. One can ask questions that encourage people to think about issues and assumptions in new ways.
Fear keeps us from leaving our comfort zone to learn about others. Taking the risk to cross imaginary boundaries is an essential first step. And dialogue is the only way we will ever learn to understand others and see that we’re part of a wondrously diverse human family.
You are such a wise woman, and from what I know about your research, you are quietly but surely helping to open minds when you meet with others. It is so much easier to dismiss, accuse and generalize. You don’t, and I aspire to be like that when I grow up. (Gosh, it’s taking me forever to grow up…) Thank you, dear Carol.
I so appreciate your kind words and gentle spirit, Cynthia. I send hugs and blessings ❤
Well said, Cynthia! Reading and the conclusion you draw brings the R&H sing to mind, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”. South Pacific contains a powerful message, for the times in which it was written, it was highly controversial too.
There is such good in most of us, and sometimes a simple reminder – even from something like South Pacific — tells us that we’ve strayed from our own beliefs and values. My husband and children are usually the ones to remind me!
Being politically correct can imply that a person is very shallow. Being careful with your words will always be the heartfelt thing to do.
More wisdom, Bernadette. Thanks for sharing.
I don’t know that I think being politically correct is such an awful thing. When I was careful to call my female college students women instead of girls, some of my male colleagues said I was just being politically correct. Really? Or was I choosing not to infantilize those students? Or when the students of color at the college made it clear that they preferred African-American to black–some said those who honored that preference were simply giving in to political correctness. Really? I don’t know . . .
Such an interesting perspective, Kerry. Your definition of being politically correct is choosing how you see others and acknowledging their preferences. That to me sounds like respect.
Some time ago, I read a link talking about how the right wing political groups, rather than communism, had also determined the definition of pc. I never found it again. Surprise. Once read, twice disappeared, but it did put a different slant on it.
Let’s be honest, Christmas trees are cultural in many countries rather than religious. I have no issue with Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, or whatever. I usually go with Season’s Greetings which, to me, respects everyone. Wiccan, Jewish, Christian, whatsoever.
I do think KerryCan above made an important point though. It’s an accsation used to put down minority groups, whomsoever they are.
I was thinking the same thing about Christmas trees the other day and concluded that the world is upside down. Maybe it always was. I also wonder if humans are hardwired to look down on someone, anyone? Lord have mercy.
Superiority complex? One of my authors helpfully informed me about that and I see it all around me these days. Me, I like to keep my little self to my self.
But does your self feel superior to itself?
OK, Kiddo – just kidding.
Great post! A lot to think about!
Thanks. Sure is!
Next topic: Civic Discourse. Yet, those who use Political Correctness as a club to beat up others, probably do not understand Civility nor Disourse.
Just call me Cicero
Cicero! Thou art entirely too inscrutable in thy comment. Are you saying we humans use the term Political Correctness to beat up on others? Agree about the need for civil discourse.
Sadly, most Greek and Roman leaders ended up being the receiving end of exile or assassination. Et tu Cicero?
Those people had no sense of humour.
Well Cynthia! You’ve certainly started something here! What an interesting discussion and like ‘Still a Dreamer’ I too could write a book about this. I think that the theory of PC is fine – we should all be considerate of others and be as kind and thoughtful as we can – but (and here I empathise with Cynthia Jobin and Hermits Door) Political Correctness is being used as a weapon in many areas and ‘censorship’ is the result. We are less free to voice our opinions and live our lives without interference than we were at the beginning of the century; ‘a good thing’ many would say. The restrictions originally were meant to curb racism, sexism and bullying of any sort but I find that those who wish to be offensive continue to be so and are not intimidated by someone nagging at them. The ones who are most affected by the restrictions are ordinary people trying to get on with their lives as best they can. They feel intimidated by the PC strictures and are afraid to ask questions or commit themselves to a viewpoint in case they are vilified by some braying mob.
I must say I am finding myself laughing at the very times I shouldn’t because right now I am trying to picture a mob of people braying like donkeys.
First, I don’t think that being considerate, kind and thoughtful is at all political correctness. As a person trying to follow Christ’s teachings (which is so darned hard at times), I think I have to do those things, or at least try hard.
Secondly, I am sorry about the situation you describe. When bullies/miserable people continue to give offense, but ordinary, well-meaning people feel restricted and afraid to ask questions…. Yikes.
Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, Clare.
If our world could only operate by the Golden Rule. It knows no boundaries of religion, race, creed, age or gender. It is the only rule one truly needs to remember, yet is the hardest to follow and soonest forgotten.
So wisely said, Lavinia. So difficult to see ourselves as others see us, and so difficult to follow the Golden Rule all the time. Perhaps the effort itself is a necessary part of our human journey.
Hear, hear. The Golden Rule exists in many cultures and religions for exactly the reason Lavinia states – it has no boundaries. And it works. So simple, but yes, sadly, so easily forgotten.
Very provocative Cynthia – as a society we’ve lost our way a little more than a bit.
I suspect that the more we find ourselves surrounded by strangers, or people who are different from us, the less likely some of us are to empathize or give the benefit of the doubt, Mary. It’s one of the challenges in a diverse population.
Reblogged this on John Cowgill's Literature Site.
Hear, hear! 😊
Very well said, and I agree with your sentiments. Although I think that sometimes I avoid arguments not out of cowardice, but out of weariness. Two other things. First, it’s generally forgotten that the term “politically correct” was revived in the 60s – but only as a term of humorous irony. Certain persons have a blind spot when it comes to both humor and irony. Second, in current political discourse the term is used mainly to roll back the consensus that emerged in the 60s and 70s that racism and bigotry are unacceptable.
What an astute and insightful comment, Jason. I’m so glad I posted this piece. I did so from a place of bewilderment to some extent. But what I’m getting back from you and others is so rich, that I’m learning new insights. I’m glad I posted it.
Origins of ‘political correctness’ say it all. In Soviet Union it was a big deal of propaganda and manipulation. Socialists resuscitated the term and introduced it to manipulate the society. Instead of being taught moral values ( mentioned kindness, for example), people are told what they have to do, what they have to think. As Cynthia Jobin says in her comment – it is a sort of censorship and dictatorship. Political correctness has nothing to do with kindness. It is a part of demoralization of society. Why? To divide and rule, of course. Very sad indeed.
The example you use is exactly why I am suspicious of the use of that term, Inese. I would rather people say what they mean instead of co-opting this term.
Absolutely agree. As I say, the origins of the term should make people think and do some research to understand what it is about. There are no law or rule that can make people kind. We have to teach ourselves and our children to be kind, tactful, honest and respectful – that’s the only way.
Through the years political correctness has gone beyond barriers it should. Bottom line is that kindness does matter. 🙂
Excellent article Cynthia.. we are so busy trying not to offend others that we can lose our own cultural identity.. Courtesy and kindness should be customary but unfortunately some people do not know how to behave and have to be given rules to follow.
Thanks for your comment. I was reading and commenting on the Nina Simone post as you were reading and commenting on mine!
Amen to that!!
And amen to your amen! How’s the Vacation Stay-tion doing? Getting lots of use?
Yes, almost every night was spent in the cabin this summer. It was great…warm some nights, but still great. Thank you for asking!
I am blind so can see the issue of “political correctness” both from the perspective of a disabled person and that of an individual who has to navigate the minefield which sometimes appears to constitute modern manners/acceptable behaviour. As a child I was called a “blind b ..rd” by young children which is, obviously wholly unacceptable. However the wish to avoid offending people can go to silly extremes. For example people say to me, as a blind person, “see you later” or “see you around”, then apologise profusely due to their eroneous belief that the word “see” may offend me as a visually impaired person. In point of fact I say “see you later” or other such similar things without thinking about it on an almost daily basis. It isn’t healthy when people are afraid of opening their mouths in case they offend others. “Political correctness” should not be used as an excuse for shutting down debate. For example some student unions have tried to bar particular speakers from speaking on campus due to fears that the speaker’s views might offend or interfere with the “safe space” of students who hold contrary opinions and/or have a lifestyle not approved of by the speaker. This kind of “no platforming” is, in my opinion unhealthy and should have no place in a free society. People should be able to say what they wish provided of course they dont advocate violence or whip up hatred against particular groups. If any wonders, I am writing this with screen reading software which converts text into speech and braille enabling me to use a standard Windows computer. Kevin
Kevin! I’m so sorry I didn’t reply to you before. What an interesting response you posted. Thanks for it. I remember apologizing to my new friend (who is blind) for saying “Do you see…?” and she laughed and said “But Cynthia, I use that term ‘see’ all the time!”
On the other hand …. as a former journalist, I am disturbed by the role the media have played in the rise of someone like Donald Trump. We seem to have willingly given over the airwaves to someone who lies or is irresponsible in his comments.
Journalistic standards have eroded in the ‘coverage’ of the US election campaign. I fondly remember a time when most journalists agreed that we had certain standards and that more was expected of us than to be stenographers to the powerful.
Not sure there’s such a thing as a ‘former journalist’. We still write, observe, analyse, and in my case, can’t walk past a noticeboard without checking it out for potential stories 😀
As for standards in journalism, I think they have been going downhill for some considerable time. I do hope I wasn’t as half-witted back then.
You make such a wonderful point here, Cynthia. A decade or so ago, it was a good thing to be “politically correct,” which meant saying something that would not hurt another’s feelings, and usually that “another” was in the minority. Nowadays, people talk as if it’s wrong to be “politically correct,” because that’s taking away our own freedom of speech. But I feel as you do: being considerate and thoughtful of others, and their feelings, shows only strength and caring, not weakness.
Well said. Thank you for this reminder of the evolution of the term.
Very well said, Cynthia, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m refusing to be “politically correct” under today’s guise since I believe in my own way, I have always been more or less politically correct — at least always trying not to offend but to learn more from others. Love they neighbor….
Indeed. Love thy neighbour – sometimes difficult, but well worth trying to live up to.
” We find comfort among those who agree with us and growth among those who don’t.”
Great post Cynthia. Sometimes we have to step back and watch ourselves and ask if this is how we want our children to behave towards others.
Reblogged this on White Padded Room and commented:
The picture of the Christmas tree caught my eye, and then I read on. I have a year round Christmas tree in my home for several reasons. One reason is that I disagree with the concept of Christmas, and, generally dislike all holidays in general. It’s a sort of silent protest that points to the pagan roots (pun intended) of the tree tradition, without using any words to upset the Christmas-happy individual. I choose my battles carefully. In this case, I simply do not speak and just let people think I’m a general weirdo with an unhealthy attachment to her undecorated tree.
Beautifully written post, but I have to respectfully disagree. We only need look to our college campuses where intellectual diversity is dying or one of several examples where people’s lives have been destroyed by an errant tweet all in the name of being political correct to know that this path of strict adherence will only end badly. I find many things that are said even today to be hateful and deplorable, but I will give my dying breath to ensure that as ugly as that speech might be that they have the right to say it. There is not distinction between “Hate Speech” and “Free Speech”. When you infringe upon one you infringe upon the other. Censorship is a slippery slope, because in a free society once you regulate one form of speech it is not much of a leap to regulate more until your society is no longer free.
I believe that we try to raise our children to be kind and open minded, but we also teach our children to be tough when needed. When I grew up it was all about learning that “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” How much weaker is our society now that we teach children that someone’s right not to hear something is more important than another’s right to say something? Who then becomes the arbiter of what is allowable speech? In any case you end up with one group dictating terms to another. The correct solution is for us to raise children that are intelligent and instead of instinctually attempting to stifle speech with which they disagree, engaging with reasoned arguments. Life has sharp edges and we can either send our children into the world with blinders or with eyes wide open.
Thank you, Red State Ronin, for taking the time to reply. I have read your reply twice, and still must ask – respectfully – “What exactly are you disagreeing with?” My inherent argument that this should not be a matter of “rights”, but of consideration for each other as human beings? My argument against taking politeness to extremes? My argument in favour of raising children to know that words matter, and that kindness is essential in a civil society? The fact that you have taken your precious time to write such a long response matters to me, and it matters that I understand what exactly you are taking issue with.
Thank you for your response. My issue is that any discussion of political correctness must also include the discussion of individual rights to free speech as an essential part of the conversation and cannot be separated out. Often times the arguments for political correctness are framed only in terms of being considerate of others. They often call for “Reasonable Accommodations” to an individual’s speech to spare another individual’s discomfort. With so many interests groups all calling for their own “Reasonable Accommodations” we eventually reach a point where the “Reasonable Accommodation” is the rule and not the exception and what can be said and not said is fully controlled. This limitation of speech by fiat of “Reasonable Accommodation” is insidious in its nature to strip away free speech and expression one word or phrase at a time until it simply becomes “Reasonable” to give these unwritten rules of political correctness the weight of law with the power to punish those who violate them. We arrive at the “extreme” of political correctness one small step at a time. (Think of all the new “Hate Speech” laws spreading across Europe.)
There can be no equivocation on the rights of free speech. We either have free speech or we do not. By its very nature Political Correctness seeks to limit speech and thus the right of the individual to speak and express themselves freely and so the 1st amendment must be included in any discussion of this topic. I agree that children need to be taught to be considerate when they communicate, but that responsibility to carefully weigh the power of our words is not born from some obligation to societal group think, but instead exchanged as part of the price we pay for exercising those freedoms.
I love this article, very balanced and I have to say I agree with you! Hit the nail on the head 🙂