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:
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).