We've all been there.
We say something that we think is hilarious… that others around us think is hilarious… that get a lot of 'likes' on FB… but that one lone downer in the crowd pipes up:
"Excuse me, I find this offensive."
End laughtrack. Cue awkward silence.
Sometimes we say something we consider powerful or honest, and yet other voices call us on our power or honesty and it's not nice at all.
We become defensive.
We become crusty.
And we pull out the PC card: "politically correct".
If someone in this fragemented world is angry with our words or actions, it's obviously s/he who has the problem. Can't she take a joke? What's his deal?
To start let's affirm a basic definition of political correctness. I mean if this is a standard defense for us when we're accused of being insensitive, we should at least try to be on the same giant page somewhere, no?
Merriam-Webster defines "politically correct" as: agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people; conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.
I don't know about you but that definition is broader than Russia, and it involves far more sense than just politics. It could mean anything! It could be twisted as anything!
But let's look at what it doesn't say:
Nowhere does this definition address people groups coming together to heal what hurt has been done because of a common desire for compassion and growth.
The definition speaks only about refraining from using certain language so as not to offend. I guess that sounds like politics: watching what I say in public, but believing and doing what I want in private. I don't need to really care about The Other because I'm still Number One.
There are many groups today who have been historically and presently marginalized, oppressed and hurt on many levels. The LGBTQ community, women (especially women of colour), people of colour, undocumented peoples, indigenous peoples, people in poverty, people experiencing homelessness… the list goes on. When people from these groups pipe up against the popular conversation, they are booed at, hissed at, talked down.
Obviously THEY are the ones who are too sensitive.
Has there developed a culture of "over-sensitivity" in our nation?
When parents get too concered over kids getting hurt playing soft ball to the point where they put heavy socks on the softballs (lessening any injury), I'll admit I roll my eyes. I see the wisdom in bike helmets for sure, but socks? SOCKS??!!?
I'll admit too that I am a sensitive person by nature. I can also be super-serious. Coupled together, teasing doesn't always make for a terrific bonding time between you and me. Your teasing might be funny for your other friends, but why would you tease me to the point where I can't tell if you're serious or not? Why am I the one who's "too sensitive" if I simply ask you to back off a little bit? It's not your place to teach me how to loosen up. If it was, I'd tell you. Until then, you and I need to learn to live with each other as we are.
On a cultural level, I think we are barely discovering just how much privilege wealthy Caucasian groups have enjoyed over the past few centuries. Now that more and more groups are empowering themselves to come forward and declare themselves as people, we are the ones who are being called upon to change. After all, we are the ones who have dehumanized.
Will this shift swing too far one way?
Probably on some levels. Probably not on other levels.
As Christians, we are called upon to listen well first with the intent on hearing The Other out. We love The Other. We love The Other as much as we love ourselves or God. Knowing this, when The Other speaks we are keen to hear and understand what is being communicated.
The thing is, most of us listen only to be heard when WE talk.
And our talk is riddled with mockery, scorn, derision, toughness (I guess), snark and sarcasm. These literary devices can have their places and often make difficult points, but more often than not these literary devices tear down, hurt, demean, and dehumanize.
But we like it.
We like our sarcastic, snarky, "put 'em in their place" speech.
When Ducky Dynasty stars quack about how African-Americans were pleased with the state of affairs in the Jim Crow South, or how ALL men know where they love to put their phallic organs… there's a big problem. But by declaring that there's a problem, we become the problem because why?
We're too sensitive.
People of colour are too sensitive.
Women are too sensitive.
LGBTQ people are too sensitive.
The false sense of Xian persecution rears its ugly head and the oppressor lashes out by saying: "Suck it up! It's a free country! Get over it!"
I'm not talk about being politically correct here. I'm talking about the specific lifestyle Xians are called upon to live out: the lifestyle of Jesus. Yet we talk down others who disagree with us. I've done it. You've done it. We've all done it.
It gets messy.
We live in a world where the "suck it up" attitude is praised and worshiped. Speaking up for one's self or group is lauded in some circles, but still given the rotten tomato treatment in the general public sphere.
I'm going to mess up my speech. Probably soon. Probably by the end of the day.
Some of it will be because I genuinely don't know your situation or how my speech and deed affects your life to the point where you cannot live your life to the fullest.
Some of it will be because I have this pesky tendency to lash out verbally when backed into a corner — a trait most of us share.
Sometimes you want to laugh at me or tease me or mock me, thinking it's a funny/helpful way for me to learn some lessons in relaxation. Sorry. That's not my truth. Keep it up and all I see is someone who refuses to see life through my eyes; someone who's mean; someone who enjoys their way of life so much that I need to live like you do.
Maybe the first lesson we need to learn together is how to hear The Other graciously, even when we feel attacked or misunderstood.
Take a breath.
(okay a REALLY big breath)
Take a step back.
Desire to listen.
Desire to listen to The Other.
Desire to listen to The Other's perceptions of our behaviour.
It could be the start of a brave new world.