While we talk about political correctness ad nauseam, we sometimes tend to overlook the perpetrators of this noxious activity. Just who are the ones who act as the enforcing agents; who are the, ugh, police people? Who are these self-appointed moral vigilantes who continue to impose their views on us?
Well, for starters, I suggest we look at the work place to see what we can come up with. It appears those who would remind us of what is correct and not correct at work seem to be none other than the Human Resources people. Rather than spend their time rectifying the despicable compensatory behavior of their bosses or trying to preserve a modicum of traditional employee benefits, they seem hell bent on pointing out the ABC's of what some greedy consultant told them was proper corporate behavior. I recall years ago when I was braced by one of these types for using the phrase "mensch" while referring to a Jewish associate. (Mensch means a caring, decent and honorable person who can be trusted and who always tries to do the right thing.) Given the horror in this lad's eyes, you would have thought I had just been booked for a stay at Pelican Bay. I do recall, however, that this same "enforcer" was discharged some years later for a rather explicit sexual harassment incident. These types, while probably well intended, seem to spend too much time finger pointing and otherwise acting as corporate enforcers, and not enough time demonstrating a modicum of courage in doing something about the obscenely excessive severance packages granted to those who fail. Indeed, during the period of corporate accounting scandals from 2001 -2003, HR people were shamefully invisible when they they should have been spending their time serving as protectors of company values.
At many schools, we have the administrators to help us behave properly......and to help make their task easier, they have a one size fits all approach; namely, the dreaded, take-no-prisoners bastion of political correctness, the zero-tolerance policy. If ever there was a road to hell paved with righteous intentions, this is the one. Think not? A 10-year-old girl at McElwain Elementary in Thornton, Col., was one of a group of girls who asked a certain boy on the playground if he liked her. The boy complained to a teacher with the result that school administrators, citing the district's "zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy," decided to suspend her. Nothing like spreading penut butter to evade consideration of each individual's personal history and the intentions that inspired their actions. Zero-tolerance policies do just that. They deny the unique worth and dignity of every student by homogenizing the playing field. How about reconsidering concepts like mediation, negotiation, forgiveness, compassion, and empathy? How about making zero-tolerance a last resort rather than the first option?
And as we look at the greater community in which we function, the PC police seem to be everywhere telling us, for example, how to speak and act. We have to be fearful of what we say, write, and think. We are fearful of using a word denounced as offensive or insensitive. Maintenance cover instead of manhole cover. Strawman is now straw; chairman is now chairperson, assemblyman is assembly person. When will selectmen become selectpeople? No more using the words cowboy or cowgirl, landlady, or landlord. The phrase Founding Fathers has been removed from America's textbooks and, if used at all, is replaced with "framers." Illegal immigrants are now referred to as "undocumented immigrants." Easter vacation is now spring break and Christmas is winter break. You can't sing traditional Carols in our public schools any more. But the PC police are involved in more than just changing words. In New Jersey, even though there had been patients across the nation who may have been infected by their dentists with AIDS and then died, NJ health providers who are HIV-positive do not need to tell their patients that they are so infected. Almost as scary, The Boulder City, Colorado Town Council will soon be taking up the matter of allocating public funding for a "hate hotline," which would give residents an opportunity to report incidents in which Boulderites use tactless language. No "mensch" comments in Boulder.
Political correctness is alive and well in religion, too. As just one example, we find that some foster intellectual supression by ostracizing others who wish to preserve the sanctity of science by keeping so-called intelligent design out of the public classrom.
The beat goes on and on, but if it were just about politeness and good manners, no big deal. However, it's about a lot more and it's time we acknowledge that this insanity is changing our society from within and that we, the the citizens of this nation, are increasingly censoring ourselves and losing our freedom of speech out of fear of socially engineered repression. We also need to understand that those who enforce political correctness are enforcing nothing more than an illusion. A dogma, a creation, if you will, to keep people in check and and from running amuck. A creation that in turn generates its own bodies of work, entire fields of study, and even new uses of language to go with them. In this strange universe, the rules of engagement are so vague no one is quite sure how to challenge them and yet we labor to incorporate them into our lives. Unless we begin to push back, more people will lose their careers, children their privileges, citizens ostracized, all because the fashionable and appropriate behavior of the day is so oblique no one can possibly see what exactly they are to do. Very insidiously and subtlety, we seem to be creating for ourselves an intellectual handicap that limits free-thinking, irreverence, push back, being analytically independent and/or intellectually curious.
The real shame is that we seem to turn away from the simple and move to the complex each and every time. We know what is innately and instinctively the right thing to do in any given situation, what behavior to display at what moment. But until we learn to follow our own simplest behaviors, how can we possibly be correct about anything? Perhaps some of us are tuned to a higher and more eloquent frequency, but each of us knows the small, easy-to-understand truths that are so manifest........ no insulting, show kindness, be sensitive and empathetic to the feelings of others, be honest and frank, but in so doing try to cause no pain, avoid securing laughs at somebody'e else expense, understand that no one is any "better" than anyone else, and above all, realize that the intent of your communication may not always square with the way it is received. Being wounded by a warning shot is still being wounded.
In the words of Wendy McElroy, "Sweeping up the debris of political correctness means demolishing the laws, the institutions and the tax-funded bureaucracies that are its structure. But it also means eliminating the vicious attitudes of intolerance and anger that are its spirit." More to the point are these words of Anthony D'Angelo, "transcend political correctness and strive for human righteousness."
"If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed." Benjamin Franklin, statesman, philosopher, publisher, and scientist (1706-1790)