Political Correctness : ‘Oh my, this is a tricky one’
The importance and purpose of political correctness is a debate that is becoming more and more prominent. In this blog I thought I would share my thoughts on the topic and I am going to start by saying – oh my, this is a tricky one.
Something I feel that we can all agree on is that language is one of the most powerful tools humans have. Words can change the world. We use words to communicate our thoughts, feelings, ideas and beliefs. The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of political correctness is: “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalise, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”
At first glance, I think it’s difficult to argue against avoiding exclusion or marginalisation of socially disadvantaged people. Political correctness allows us to use language that reduces a negative impact on other people. Some argue that it is easy to choose one word over another. Yet saying the wrong thing can have serious negative consequences for someone else in terms of whether they feel safe and welcome. Political correctness is also arguably an acknowledgment of an awareness that your experiences aren’t the same as everyone else’s experiences.
“It is important that we are mindful of the impact that our words can have on the people around us.”
I can understand the concerns some have about political correctness going too far. There is the view that PC-ness can shrink space for debate and get in the way of progress – which could have negative implications on change. Political correctness can even “hide” discriminatory beliefs a person has – just because someone is saying the right things, it might not match their actual thoughts. This in turn could mean that it dismisses the chance to further educate people and challenge their perhaps outdated views on various issues. Other arguments against PC-ness is that it is a form of censorship. Freedom of speech is a human right and losing this could lead to a downward spiral.
The controversy that surrounds political correctness stems from personal experiences and to an extent, privilege. People tend to believe that what isn’t offensive to them, won’t offend anyone else. Whereas if you have experienced someone who has not been considerate with their choice of words and know what it’s like to be offended, excluded or hurt; you are much more likely to understand the importance of political correctness.
There has arguably been an increase in the prominence of political correctness in every day conversations. You often hear “this isn’t very PC but…” and “I’m not sure what the right words are to say this nowadays…”. Personally, I think this is a good thing. It is important that we are mindful of the impact that our words can have on the people around us. I do believe that political correctness can protect and encourage inclusivity. But really, the most important thing is to make sure that you are open to listen and learn about the language you use and be prepared to being challenged. We will all use the wrong word or phrase at some stage – that is inevitable. But how deal with these mistakes and how we learn from this for future conversations and debates is the most important thing.