Political correctness, civility and real-world problems: Communicating better

I've been thinking, again, about political correctness, civility, and how far we need to go to be nice to each other. Forgive me as I ramble here, and work some of it out.

Kelvin and I did a podcast on rules for good communication. One of the rules is that the communicator should come in without malice, and that the listener should come in assuming the communicator is coming in without malice.

That is, if I say something subtly offensive, I probably didn't mean to offend you. If it's bothering you, speak up. On the other hand, I definitely shouldn't come in overtly offensive.

This is more-and-more front of mind as I see the way our outgoing president and our president-elect interact with people in public. During Barack Obama's farewell address, people started booing when he mentioned handing over the reins to Donald Trump. His response to people criticizing a political rival? "No, no, no, no, no."

Trump's response to someone like Meryl Streep criticizing him? "She's overrated." The number and variety of awards she's won is actually an objective measure of the fact that she's not.

She just disagreed with him. It's OK to do. Seriously.

One of the things I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in a post about things to think about is dominant culture still being a culture.

Then I read something about university students in the UK demanding philosophers like Plato and Kant be removed from syllabi because they are white. While it's totally beside the point that Plato was probably not white, coming from the Mediterranean some 3000 years ago, the fact that great thinkers were members of the dominant culture doesn't diminish their work.

I haven't heard any calls for the art works of da Vinci or van Gogh to come out of museums. Or for John Grisham and JK Rowling to be excluded from bestseller lists.

At its heart, I think a lot of eye-rolling at "political correctness" these days is lazy people refusing to be civil to other humans. But it's another thing altogether to decide how much work to do to do what someone else might consider polite.

For instance, New York City has a long list of acceptable gender pronouns. It's upwards of 70, I hear. And if you're an employer or a landlord and use the wrong one, the Post writes, you could be fined a quarter-million dollars.

Turns out that's not entirely true. You can be fined if you're an asshole about it. For instance, if a transgender individual asks you to call her "Miss" and you insist on calling her "Mister" after repeated requests, that's when you're liable for a fine.

It was while I was sitting there thinking about political correctness and wondering how we got here that I opened Twitter, and, ta-da!

The short take on where political correctness comes from is that it harks back to Communism. Facts didn't matter, but you had to say what the State wanted to hear. Here's the longer take.

This is sounding eerily familiar, and it's actually different from the thing being called political correctness.

Then again, maybe it's not. University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson warns that we're teaching college students lies (more Peterson on Joe Rogan's podcast). Indeed, some colleges are having to cater to students with "unique and special snowflake" complexes. [Update: Peterson is on Duncan Trussell talking about this, also.]

We need to start growing up and tackling actual issues. Here's a game plan for moving forward:

(1) Go a little out of your way to be civil to people. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, after all.
(2) If you're offended by something, particularly speech, ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable. And by reasonable, I mean, put yourself in someone else's shoes — if doing so requires an entire overhaul of your worldview, you're not being reasonable.
(3) Understand both language and context. You might reasonably describe your teenage kid as behaving uppity, but understand that word means something entirely different to black Americans who lived through the 1960s and 1970s.
(4) Shut up and work on real problems. If using whatever words you want or stopping people from using the words they want are high on your agenda, maybe go volunteer down at the soup kitchen or something for a day. There are actual problems in this world.

Here are some more writings on political correctness and group relations:

Thoughts on the Confederate flag, plus Trump and Amy Schumer on Mexicans
Holidays and political correctness: There is no war on Christmas
Implementing movements and Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter
Why context matters
Stopping the mediocritization of america

Here, let's wrap with a little bit of thematic comedy:

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