If there has been a term that seemed to come out of nowhere to me, seemingly fade into the past, and return with a vengeance it is the term politically correct. I first became aware of it in the 1990s and it seemed to come from people on the left to want to show that default language, actions, and thought processes often come at the expense of others. The challenge of this, of course, is that people can get offended by most anything. They can even be offended by someone who is not trying to say anything offensive at all. But, liberals wanted to shine a light and highlight that our normal mode of operating might come at the expense of others (even if that is not the intent).
I will always remember a moment in seminary when my male theology professor, from North Carolina, jokingly used NBA basketball to describe the power of good and evil. To him, Michael Jordan kind of encapsulated a positive force and Dennis Rodman a negative force. One of my female classmates got very angry. I thought she must be a Dennis Rodman fan but that wasn’t it at all. She accused the professor of using an analogy that would mean more to the men in the classroom than the women because most women did not watch NBA basketball and his analogy would mean little to them. That was an example of political correctness to me. On the one hand, it was a natural analogy for a guy who grew up in basketball country to make. On the other hand, not everyone shares those experiences. Can we think of how the other gender, other races, and other nationalities perceive what is normal to us? Should it stay normal?
As the 1990s passed, so did I assume the term politically correct. Like other time specific phrases, it seemed like a fad. I heard the term less and less. The concept was still out there for sure. But beyond a shrinking segment, I would hear the term less and less often. Then there was this year.
In 2016, the term politically correct is back with a vengeance. But it comes back this time from conservatives rather than liberals. It seems to be a banner this year for conservatives to claim that politically correct is what they are not. Conservatives frequently feel we have become too sensitive as a society. They feel people cannot state what to them is obvious because it might hurt someone’s feelings. It is kind of the opposite way I was introduced to the term. One side said back in the 90s, “You’re not being sensitive enough.” The other side seems to say, “You are being way too sensitive.” I honestly have sympathy for both sides in this to and fro. Jesus’ Golden Rule does encourage us to consider the feelings of others and we should act accordingly. At the same time, Jesus did all sorts of things that other people were offended by. Striking the right balance seems key.
And then there is Donald Trump. Yesterday, Donald Trump said at a rally as they hauled away a protestor, “In the old days, someone like that would not be left standing. But today we’ve become weak. Now we are all politically correct.” I find that rather disturbing. He’s making the jump there from thoughts and words to actions. He seems to be taking it to the next level saying, “If someone is offended by what you are saying, and shows it, you should create an environment where they do not feel safe doing that.” That is starting to tread on dangerous ground to me and it is clear which side Jesus would be on (and for me to be clear, it is not on the side of those trying to use violence to suppress people who disagree with them).
The whole concept of political correctness is a bit disconcerting to me, both by helping me to see default settings in our society often do favor some over others. At the same time, we are who we are. We were born into the world we were born into. And we need to dialogue and we cannot do that if topics and points of view remain forbidden to raise. We have to find a way to help people talk with divergent points of view, to empathize with one another, and, most of all, to compromise (critical in a democracy).
Somehow, this 90s term, isn’t going to go away, is it?
What do you think?
Until next time,