Political Correctness & The Policing of Dialogue

Words can carry a lot of power. History has shown us that one wrong word can oppress an entire population of people while the right ones have the power to set them free. Nations, communities, even families can be united or divided by the rhetoric used by the people involved. A person’s bad-day can turn into a good one with a simple compliment but can easily be ruined, or worse, by a peer’s poor choice of words. It is imperative, as individuals and as a society, to choose our words wisely because of the potential impact they may have on our friends, families, and communities.

Many of us are working to build a more inclusive, understanding, and compassionate society where all feel comfortable in their own skin, but some in this new society seem to exclude and exile those who don’t conform to the modern rules of engagement. They are the ones who seem intent on policing dialogue and combating misstatements, questionable language, and insensitive phrasing by hurling labels and outrage toward offenders. While there’s nothing wrong with standing up against hateful/hurtful speech, there seems to be a line they continuously cross.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who choose not to conform because of differences between the ideology they hold and the rest of society’s. Many are accustomed to social norms from the past and their behavior is rooted in a particular way of thinking that doesn’t coincide with today’s idea of social normalcy. Not all change in a society is good and holding onto one’s beliefs can be a sign of strength, but it’s the ones who go to extreme lengths to protect their sense of self in an ever-changing world that slows personal and social growth.

We believe both types of behavior can hinder positive societal progress but today, our focus is on those who excessively attempt to silence speech. Our thoughts on changing mindsets and why it’s difficult for some to do so can be found here: How do You Change a Mindset? & Outrage: The Need for Follow-Through

Political correctness, by definition, is ‘the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.’ Many people hate the concept for a plethora of reasons, but we’d argue that there’s a place for it in society when all parties can agree on what is or isn’t acceptable, not just the group that leads the culture wars.

Over-sensitivity is often to blame for the overreach of political correctness, but we speculate that every previous generation says that about their successors. The problems we currently face are vastly different than the ones faced decades ago, so if times were thought to be harder “back in the day,” of course some modern issues would be considered trivial. But that doesn’t mean they are any less challenging, they are simply different. While sensitivity may in fact be a cause for this overreach, perhaps it’s the previous generations who have become hardened by the cruelty of the world and have lost the empathy they once carried during their youth.

With that being said, people are going to say things and we must take it upon ourselves to not let words or phrases get under our skin. Not everyone adheres to or believes in the newly found rules of civility or follow social trends because a lot of it is subjective, so people will always disagree. Those who police people for the things they say need to come to terms with that and learn to respond appropriately because, at the end of the day, people choose right or wrong by how it fits within their systems of belief, even in spite of social pressure. In this insensitive and uncaring world we have no choice but to grow thick skin until we are able to deflect the pain that may come with the hurtful things people say…they’re only words after all (we’re not saying words don’t have the power to oppress, intimidate, demean, or hurt others, we simply mean we can have power over how we let them affect us).

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson once said that ‘society is elevating sensitivity over truth.’ We believe his statement to be true especially when considering the concept of a “safe space” where people don’t want to be exposed to negativity, hatred, or danger. We live in a world that is quite the opposite, unfortunately, and the way to make people safe and secure is not to shield them from the dangers of discomfort, but to expose them to the things that make them uncomfortable, so they are prepared to confront discomfort and danger when it is encountered.

One of the more troubling trends we find among political correctness enforcers or “social justice warriors” is the hypocrisy in their message. ‘Acceptance for all groups of people’ seems to be the motto but not when faced with a dissenting point-of-view. The reaction is typically to alienate, shame, and silence an objector to the point where they no longer feel safe voicing an opinion. Labels are tossed at them like ‘bigot,’ ‘racist,’ and ‘sexist’ but what good does that really do?

Belittling people for what they say and lumping them into groups isolates them further until they seek refuge with others who are like them and who will reinforce their way of thinking. It’s not good enough to just yell and counter name calling with more name calling because it is a form of bullying where they force people to avoid the debate. We must encourage others to engage in the debate by listening, first and foremost, then help others understand why they are wrong for using inappropriate language. Forcing silence and yelling does not help someone change their opinion, it only enforces it by driving them into groups where they feel their opinion is accepted.

Again, we’re not saying we shouldn’t confront the blatantly racist, sexist, etc. people of the world, but we need to find a way to actively deal with opposition in a way that’s effective. Dictating speech is one of the wrong ways and is a form of puritanism, oppression, suppression, and bullying.

Something our PC friends should consider is that beliefs are conditioned in a variety of ways. Where you’re from, how you’re raised, and the experiences you’ve had all influence ideology. Many are sympathetic towards violent communities (let’s say some parts of Chicago) because they are aware of the hardships, disadvantages, and social issues the people within these areas face, but why can’t we consider the influences that make a racist person racist? Of course, there should be little room in this world for hate, but a white man in a rural town in Alabama with hardly any education and zero exposure to people of color increases the chances of behavior like this because of the influences, or lack thereof, they’ve encountered (our example is merely a demonstration & we do not mean to generalize or stereotype people). Why can’t we address these people with the same sympathy and patience as other disadvantaged people instead of shouting at them to shut up? No one will ever learn that way.

Another thing to consider is that some people don’t have access to as much information as others which can leave groups behind as society changes (I know, hard to believe in this technologically advanced world). An example may be an elderly person who wasn’t raised in the digital age, or single parents who don’t have time to keep up with everything we see in the news/media. These things and many more can make it harder for that individual to follow along with everyone else. People don’t just wake up with a different mindset or a better understanding of the changes around them and, as we mentioned before, behaviors, ideology, etc. are developed after being reinforced by experiences and repetition of information received (and how it coincides with already held beliefs).

As we get older and our responsibilities increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with change since we aren’t part of the world as much as we were when we were younger. Our influences or our environments shrink–friends become acquaintances, if that, our social life is typically limited to the office, and we see the same people almost every day. Family, friends, co-workers, and the news are our main correspondents and they either stagnate or help shape our limited perception of the world.

Basically, we are forced into a vacuum of endless redundant information and opinions which places us within a bubble. This bubble protects us from all outside ideology that differs from our resource’s collective way of thinking, and our sense of self and who we are is safe in said bubble. Living in it not only becomes a way of life, it becomes a way of thinking, and as the world spins/changes, the bubble tells us these new ideas & morals are dangerous because they are unknown and untested. It’s a trap because it tricks us into thinking we’re better off sticking with what we know since we’ve made it this far.

In reality, it’s a shell we create. We close ourselves off to change/differences in perspectives because it is really really hard to adjust who we are and what we’ve become in this world; repetition and comfort makes fools of us all. PC people need to understand this just as much as the individual because some people may not know they are even causing offense. Again, yelling and calling names here does not do much.

A good example of how fast times change and how ineffective yelling at someone can be is a story from a place I worked in college. It was just ten years ago but it was a vastly different time with a whole set of rules that would seem ignorant by today’s standards. To give you a taste of what it was like back then, my cellphone couldn’t take pictures, didn’t have the internet, and texting had just become the mainstream way to communicate (primitive times, right?). Saying “that’s gay” was slowly becoming an inappropriate phrase, and I was unaware because it was still acceptable in the circles I swam in. It was something everyone, from middle school through college, said on a regular basis. We didn’t know the meaning or the potential damage it was causing the homosexual community. Most of us ignorantly thought it was just a word used as commonly as ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid,’ and it wasn’t until getting yelled at by my boss did I learn it was a problem for some people. I hadn’t been exposed to or was even told it was wrong, so I was caught in the headlights of my boss’ fury. Even worse, my boss did not elaborate on why it was wrong, so I continued to use it when I wasn’t around her. I knew she didn’t appreciate the phrase, but it was acceptable elsewhere. As an adult, I’ve learned why it is inappropriate through experiences I’ve had, but it’s obvious that telling people not to say something without explaining the reasons why is ineffective.

While we believe political correctness is a necessary tool for creating positive rhetoric and inclusive forms of communication, we believe the current methods of doing so are ineffective. The social justice warriors of the world need to learn to exercise patience and understanding for those with opposing views to debate effectively. People need to be able to empathize and understand a situation, scenario, etc. for change, or a variance in ideology to impact them in the appropriate way. Outrage needs to have an articulate message behind it. Otherwise, people won’t understand the reasoning behind it, they’ll just avoid the things that trigger people while holding onto their already established beliefs. Society/people will not change that way, it only keeps them quiet until they have an opportunity to reveal their true nature and beliefs.

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