Being politically correct not so easy

It may not be wise, but let’s talk about political correctness.

Actually, it’s politically smart to bring up PC these days. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and others have been openly critical of language that seeks to sanitize modern America, and a lot of Republican voters love them for it. Conservatives see PC all over the place these days, and they’re thrilled when someone takes it on.

I see their point on this one, sort of. Words and phrases mean different things to different people, and some people are hypersensitive about the words and phrases a lot of other people use. Restricting language doesn’t expand the conversation, it shrinks it, and I don’t want to leave anybody out.

But people do need to show respect. Name-calling is disrespectful, as is using language you know to be offensive, and if that’s being PC, so be it. I was raised to say “yes sir” and “yes ma’am” when talking with my elders, and while that too is PC, it’s also a good way to behave. PC is often times the right thing to do.

The problem with PC is in degrees. It’s PC not to use curse words in a church sanctuary, and nobody’s disputing that. But when someone is told to say “humankind” instead of “mankind,” that’s when people start objecting. For whatever reason, de-gendering our language is something a lot of people, both male and female, dislike—to them, that’s taking PC too far.

Racial and ethnic identifiers, gender-specific words, phrases that describe certain groups of people—these are all vulnerable to political correctness, and for understandable reasons. Words mean things, and as the world and its peoples change, so do the meanings of those words.

For some old timers, it’s hard to keep up. In less than a century, we’ve got from “colored” to “Negro” to “black” to “African American.” The evolution of what’s PC and what’s passé can get confusing to white, Caucasian, Anglo European Americans like me.

Still, I’ve found most people don’t take offense to someone who isn’t quite up to speed of the PC word du jour, as long as what’s said is said with respect.

The fear of many conservatives is that, if they’re not PC in what they say, they’ll be labeled racist, sexist or some other “ist” that smears their character and reputation. For a politician I can understand that concern—many a candidate has been typecast as a terrible person because of something they said—but for everyday Americans, it’s not so much what you say as what you do.

Treat people with respect, as equals, and they’ll probably overlook your PC lapses. At least I hope that’s true, for I say the wrong thing quite often.

Like most Americans these days, I’m employed in a diverse working environment. My co-workers are male, female, gay, straight, Hispanic, Anglo, Muslim, Jew, Christian, liberal, conservative, libertarian and downright apathetic—and I’m sure I’m leaving someone out, which is very un-PC of me. But here’s the point: In this melting pot we call America, we’ve got to show a little respect for each other if we’re going to get along.

You can see some of this being played out on some of America’s colleges and universities, where conservatives see a liberal agenda at work through the power of PC, while liberals hear unfiltered hate speech and wonder if it’s a threat to campus security.

Again, it’s a matter of degree.

Trump et al are playing up an illusion. Americans are still free to say what they want, how they want. If you decide to offend someone with your politically incorrect words, have at it. Trump has demonstrated that it still plays well to the right crowd.

To other crowds, however, it can be a slap in the face.

When it comes to respect, it’s a two-way street. If you can’t speak with words that demonstrate respect for other people, than you don’t deserve respect yourself.

Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and editor of the Roswell Daily Record. He may be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com or tmcdonald@rdrnews.com.