Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Primer on Being PC

The following is a brief treatise on what it means to be Politically Correct. Thus, you can determine if you are of the Politically Correct crowd or not.

The term Politically Correct is hardly a new concept. It’s only that in recent years we have seen the emergence of this adjectival description perpetrated through the media in a pejorative sense. Words, in their simplest form, are intended to convey ideas, meaning and information. A person who uses words well is thought to be lucid, capable of conveying thoughts, ideas and beliefs in a clear and understandable manner.

Enter: Political Correctness.

With the advent of this term into common parlance, the way in which people of all strata speak comes under close scrutiny by those who are expecting to be insulted, mocked, or in some other manner, verbally denigrated. Thus the free expression of ideas is hampered, casting a shroud of fear on the speaker lest the words used are deemed inappropriate by the listener. Case in point: In 2007, then Senators Joe Biden and Barack Obama had a dust up over the use of a word that under normal circumstances would never be thought to be inappropriate. The word that caused a minor rift between the two Democrat presidential candidates was: articulate. As reported, Senator Biden said that Senator Obama was “articulate.” Supposedly Senator Obama was offended. Why? It is purportedly offensive because it implies that the speaker thinks not all African Americans are articulate and that Senator Obama distinguishes himself only to whites because he is perceived to be more like them.
Here’s where Political Correctness goes beyond the pale. When the use of a word under normal communication is twisted in such a way as to pervert the meaning of the word and the intent of the user, then nothing is sacrosanct from such fractured distortions. Did Senator Biden intend to cast such an aspersion on Senator Obama? I seriously doubt it.

A number of years ago I ran into a military chaplain I had previously served with. I was delighted to see him. After hugging each other I spontaneously said, “Man, I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age!” He gave me a quizzical look and just shook his head. It didn’t immediately occur to me that this phrase might be offensive to him. Since he is African American, I can only assume he thought I was using the term “coon” in the slang and offensive manner used in reference to someone who is black. Such a thing never occurred to me. I was speechless! It was my intention to use the term “coon’s age” in the manner it was first intended – a period of five to ten years – the average number of years a raccoon might live in the wild. Alas, this is not what was understood by my chaplain colleague.

There are many words that are clearly offensive and derogatory and should not be used in the ordinary communication of ideas. Labels that place someone in a certain category are both hurtful and unnecessary. But do we really want the “Thought Police” to dictate what can and cannot be said? It’s frightening to envision a world where we are not free to express ourselves, even if the words we use are offensive. Apart from most sports programs, news shows, and 1950s TV programs (like: “I Love Lucy”) there are way too many programs that are filled with vulgar, profane, and faith-offensive words. Ditto for most movies.

Though politically correct speech goes back to the late 1700s in this country, it has enjoyed resurgence in the past several decades, fueled by a media that no longer reports news, but instead works at fostering disharmony between individuals and groups. There is an ever increasing attempt on the part of the media to publicly embarrass elected officials by pointing out their misuse of words (ala: former Vice President Dan Quayle and former President George W. Bush). Or, as in the case of then Senator Biden, take a perfectly good word that was used properly and was intended as a compliment, and turn it all around so as to place the senator in a fabricated hot seat.

The Bible gives some very clear instruction concerning the use of words, and the manner in which we should speak. Paul tells the Ephesian Christians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I like the way a modern translation, The Message, puts this: “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.”

David offers this as a prayer concerning the use of words in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Sounds like good advice!

Even when we speak clearly there may still be those who willingly choose to misconstrue or twist our words, giving them meaning that was never intended. You cannot control this blatant attempt at misrepresentation. But you can speak your words with grace and dignity so that those who do attempt to embarrass you will be ashamed in the effort. God knows your heart.

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