July 27, 2017
From twitter and Facebook to discussions in meetings or among friends there are more and more people interjecting into their communications, “I may come off as abrasive and insensitive, but you just have to accept me the way I am. I refuse to be “politically correct.” I’m an honest person who tells it like it is.” The implication seems to be that others are too cautious, too accommodating, and too willing to soften the truth for the sake of maintaining comfortable relationships.
Upon closer examination, it seems there are two sources for this aversion to the political correctness. One source erupts from a sense of superiority over others; often expressed by people with economic and political power. These people are convinced that they have the ability to be more effective and make better decisions than co-workers, political leaders, or the general population. In the name of honesty they feel free to label others inept and use images denigrating their character.
The second source is the opposite of overactive superiority. It is the feeling of powerlessness. It is fed by frustrations of economic, political, or social impingements on daily living. Sometimes it’s change that threatens dependable and trusted rules and established ethics. At other times it’s distress over inadequate health insurance coverage or a bill collector demanding money that’s been allocated for the basics of food, shelter, and the children’s education. A demand to work overtime may overpower the promise to be at a daughter’s school play. And at other times the power of a government official, a national corporation, or the cable company overwhelms. This sense of powerlessness may erupt into anger toward a stranger or an immigrant perceived to threaten job opportunities, local customs, or to compromise privileges of citizenship.
At these times, angry words, labels, and accusations seem like a good idea. There is a sense of power engendered through name-calling, invective, derision, as well as with ethnic, religious, racial, or gender slander. How good it would feel to let it all out! And there is always the alternative option of associating with someone rich enough and brazen enough to hurl derogatory epithets without consequences!
However, I would suggest that these actions of bravado and unbounded ranting and raving never trump empathy, humility, and clear thinking. In fact, “political correctness” may not be pejorative. It may simply mean recognizing and honoring people’s sensitivities and dignity. Political correctness invites people into discussion: listening to concerns, discovering differences, and seeking ways to create common understanding. It includes the hospitality of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, or Sesame Street. It recalls the stories of Dr. Seuss or watching the recently released film, Zootopia. Basically, it doesn’t take a college degree or accumulation of wealth or the credentials of a “winner” to initiate these concepts we learned as children. And what about that old adage, “Count to ten before speaking?” This approach is not naive, weak, or gullible. One of the ways to make America still greater is to resurrect impulse control, particularly control of the mouth! To make America still greater is to do the work of a good neighbor.
The world is watching. Handala, a ten-year-old Palestinian boy, shows up in every political cartoon of Naji al-Ali. Handala stands with his hands clasped behind his back, looking with the viewer’s perspective, at each political cartoon. He is watching depictions of injustice in Israel, Palestine, the United States, and around the world. He’s the constant witness to the suffering of oppressed people everywhere. Al-Ali says that Handala will not grow up or turn around until there is peace and justice in the world. He is the conscience of the world.
What might Handala see in our country: an entourage speaking out with belligerence, belittling others unlike themselves, and relishing the bluster of bullies? Or will Handala witness evidence of the making of a still greater America? I hope he will see my college cross country coach who insisted that whenever we passed an opposing team member during a race we talk to him, encourage him, and challenge him to pick up his pace and run with us. The result was we all ran faster, made personal bests, and contributed to a great race for all of us.
And I hope he will see the small discussion group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians meeting monthly in Concord exploring ways of justice and peace for all people. Perhaps he will see the Palestinian college students living in the West Bank seeking nonviolent ways to claim dignity while under Israeli occupation. And he will see a group of New Hampshire church people joining Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum’s initiative to write to President Trump, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.
Handala will see people from many walks of life forming food co-ops and farmers’ markets to access affordable healthy food. He will see the hospitality Concord citizens extend to our refugee community and the help struggling people give to each other. He will also see courageous volunteers from our country serving in Doctors without Borders, the Peace Corps, and working with refugees in Lebanon.
No matter who we are, how much or little education we have, to what social or economic class we belong; no matter our race, ethnicity, gender orientation, religious belief, or what skills we have or lack, we have contributions to make for a greater America. We belong to a people of dignity, each contributing out of our great diversity of beliefs, visions, and hopes. By sharing our insights, our struggles and successes, and voting for people who work for justice and dignity for every human being worldwide, we can make America still greater. If this describes “political correctness,” sign me up.