Roger Marolt: Excuse me for being politically correct, I was only trying to be polite
I read a letter in the paper the other day by somebody who had attended an event where a speaker filled everyone in on political correctness running amok at Aspen High School.
I would love to hear that speech because I have spent the better part of the past 18 years following three kids through our school system and haven’t seen any problems related to an excessive application of political correctness from teachers or students. Perhaps it is coming from the bus drivers.
The reason I’m so curious about this is because I am not particularly politically correct, but sometimes people mistakenly think I am, maybe because I don’t make racial jokes or don’t talk disparagingly about women. I have a few Mexican friends that I practice speaking Spanish with and maybe that gives the impression that I’ve gone amok with political correctness, too. I don’t know.
I guess I don’t understand what real harm there is in excessive political correctness. There was a recent story about Colorado State University coming up with a bunch of banned words and phrases that a committee there found might be offensive to certain groups or individuals on campus and in the real world.
Many took this as an example of things going amok. But, liberal eliteness, or lack thereof, is in the details and it turned out the banned forms of speech were actually only a list of words and phrases that some people thought others should be made aware of. There were no penalties or admonitions against anyone who didn’t strike them from their vocabularies. So, what’s the big deal?
As of the time this column was written, there were no known laws against using certain words in the United States, unless you consider the old adage that freedom of speech does not include yelling “fire” in a crowded theater when in fact there is no fire. The nuance here is that the word “fire” is not illegal. Saying it in a way and situation that causes a crowd to panic and stampede toward the exits in a frenzied manner that endangers others is the issue. It’s a technicality made pertinent due to our lack of gun control.
Sometimes I think being polite is mistaken for political correctness, intentionally or not. Being overly agreeable can land you in a tough spot with those who wish to be appreciably disagreeable. This begs a couple of questions: Are all nice people politically correct? And, do people who try not to be politically correct think that being offensive is a virtue?
A common thing for parents to tell their children when they come of playground age is something to the effect that swearing is a sign of ignorance since it is what people resort to when they can think of no better way to express themselves. I’m not sure this is entirely true as I grew up with kids who cussed poetic masterpieces before they were out of middle school.
In general though, I think mastery of an expansive vocabulary and resorting to its breadth for expression of thought is at least a decent sign of above average intelligence, even running neck and neck with a good sense of humor.
There also is a chance that the heightened resistance to political correctness is a pushback against the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Although this is not a legislative mandate either, it is a habit of considerate people. Opponents of this good advice are usually mean people with ugly opinions about as large as their egos and feel the constant need to express them bigly.
I doubt the previous sentence meets the technical criteria of being politically correct, yet I am certain those offended by it will interpret it as if it is. Such is the convenient vagueness of the term.
I am not an accomplished student of history, but I don’t recall any nation or society — great, middling, or lousy — that was brought down by the proliferation of political correctness. Brexit not withstanding, the British continue to thrive. I grant you that the over-application of demanding edited forms of speech in an expanding circle of circumstances can become annoying, but I cannot see the danger in it.
If anything, the vagueness in defining “political correctness” might lead to the real peril in its application. In a society of haters, it is conceivable that politically correct terms might come to include the N-word and the P-word. Then we might have trouble.
Even still, it would not be necessary to outlaw the offensive speech because actions always speak louder than words — and it will always be easy to identify truly dangerous individuals in society so we don’t mistakenly elect them into powerful positions.
Roger Marolt knows political correctness is always in place but varies in definition by political party. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.