Thursday, October 25, 2012

PC or just plain nice manners?

This month I've had quite a few conversations about words and actions, and how to choose them in a way that is respectful. Immediately, the term "politically correct" is thrown around and I have to remind myself that it is a pejorative term. Because in my mind, it just means doing the right/kind thing. But in some people's minds, it means you and your over-sensitivity are taking away my freedom. 

The more I've talked about it with people, the more I've tried to understand the resistance. I think a big part of it is a mistaken "us versus them" mentality. The oversensitive PC police versus the people whose rights and fun they are ruining. But there is no "us" and no "them," we are all in this together; language is a fluid thing and we are all going to be evolving along with it as we recognize the power of our words and actions. I know, because I've been an "us" and a "them." I've used words that I didn't know were wrong, and words that I knew were wrong but I didn't understand why enough to totally stop using them.

I think the big eye opening moment for me was being pregnant with Hannah and getting the trisomy screening tests. Nothing came back to indicate any issues, but just the act of getting those tests was the closest I had come to really imagining a diagnosis like Down syndrome. How would I react? What would I do? I knew I loved this child fiercely from the moment I found out I was pregnant, and no diagnosis could change that. Even in the hypothetical, I wanted to defend my child against the notion that she was "less than," or fair game for cruel names or jokes just because of a diagnosis. And by "defend," I mean "punch people in the face." And the fact was not lost on me that the first person I ought to punch was myself. Because I had thrown around the R-word before (ugh, I know). And suddenly and completely I knew it was a big deal and I understood why.

I think the hardest thing about being wrong about something like this is learning you said or did something that was, in fact, hurtful. This is a big deal to most people (Ann Coulter, excluded), because we like to think of ourselves as nice, caring people. And when someone tells you that you said or did something that wasn't nice or caring? That is a recipe for cognitive dissonance. And you have a few ways to deal with cognitive dissonance: tell yourself what you did wasn't so bad, tell yourself the people bossing you around are the not-nice ones, (usually, both), or you can change. And change is hard. It means saying, I'm not a jerk, this other person is not a jerk, but I did do something hurtful (even if I didn't fully realize it or mean to) and I need to stop. 

I think the best antidote for offensive words and actions, is learning more about (or better yet, getting to know) the people you are hurting. And I'm not encouraging tokenism ("but I have a black friend! I can't be racist!") or finding someone who is a member of a group and will tell you whatever controversial word or action isn't a big deal to them (hint: it is also kinda messed up to ask one person to represent an entire group). So read up, meet people, make friends. And most of all, be nice.

If anybody is interested, these are some articles related to the "PC" topics I've been discussing this month:
An open letter to Ann Coulter from a really amazing guy with Down syndrome
A well-written article about hurtful Thanksgiving stereotypes
An article about really bad ideas for Halloween costumes
A great article about why making fun of people's (ahem, Mitt Romney's) religion isn't cool - lest you think this is just a problem with the Ann Coulter/Fox news crowd, I'd like to say that I am equally sick of of the left making fun of Mitt Romney's religion. I actually got into a discussion with some people on Twitter (convo here) about this last night (Ironically, it happened after I wrote this. The conversation basically epitomized the cognitive dissonance reactions I described). 



  1. I have a question, and since I know you will give me a thoughtful reply, I will ask you.

    I read the links you posted and I totally agree with the first three. I'm glad these things are being talked about.

    I see your point on the fourth one, but honestly what should we do/say when someone's beliefs are so far fetched and don't hold up when looked at critically? Should we politely refrain from saying anything just because they call it a "religion" and that makes it sacred or untouchable? I'm sure you are familiar with Mormonism, and I think you would agree that their beliefs require some suspension of critical thinking. Pointing out that his religious beliefs are "out there" is certainly valid when considering that he wants to run the country. People certainly haven't all gone about it the best way, and "magic underwear" jokes are super lame. I'm just of the mind that things should be talked about and picked apart and if they still stand up, then we can call them beliefs.

    I don't know. Maybe I missed the point. :)

    1. I think the article summed it up best in the update (pasted below). I think it is fine to respectfully disagree or question aspects of a religion. I actually think their is a good bit of this within the more liberal portion of the Mormon community. But mocking their beliefs is when it becomes a problem. Calling them "magic underwear" instead of "temple garments" and comparing them to fancy bra/panties is sort of ignorant and annoying. And it alienates the liberal Mormon minority whose thoughts and views I appreciate.

      "Perhaps I need to be clearer. I'm not endorsing any belief of Mormonism, nor do I have any issue with people taking a serious, thoughtful approach at examining a faith or its practice. For instance, how the Mormon church has approached the issue of gay marriage, women in the church, or race issues. This diary isn't the place for that, though. I am talking about taking something that you find silly and using it to mock someone else. I am talking about using someone's faith as a smear. I am talking about living up to the liberal ideals of respect and community harmony"

  2. OK and I thought about it some more, I think this needs more back story: my big frustration was that a few tweets before the "my magic underwear is.." one was her saying something to the effect of, "wait, I just found out Mormons have Magic underwear?!" or something. Then she immediately assumes it is some sort of chastity belt-type thing and starts bashing/mocking it. Like she didn't even do a stupid Google search. Like you simply can't intelligently criticize something you don't even understand. If she had said, hey I researched this, and if this is true, it concerns me because of x, y, and z. Instead she was like, I heard a derogatory phrase! I repeated it! and made fun of it some more!

    1. I see more where you are coming from. I definitely prefer intelligent discussion to mockery. Also, I find the ideas of liberal Mormons fascinating. I need to read up on that.