Saturday, August 6, 2016

The dangers of political correctness...

I wasn't planning to write another post this morning, but my dear husband Bill got me in the mood.  Some husbands get their wives in the mood to make love.  Mine gets me in the mood to express myself online.

Anyway, we were having a chat after our usual Saturday morning breakfast.  I was telling him about the amazing LTG West's story and that discussion led to yet another discussion about an irritating Facebook argument I had with a former Facebook friend about political correctness and language.  I had that argument around this time two years ago, right after Bill and I landed in Germany for the second time.  I was really jetlagged and kind of irritable.  We were holed up in a hotel with our dogs and feeling stressed out over keeping them contained.

I read an article about a teacher at a foreign language school in Utah who got fired because he wrote a blog post about homophones.  His employer terminated his employment because he feared foreign students would think the teacher was promoting a homosexual agenda.  I blogged about this situation, mainly because I was disgusted by it on many levels.  I also posted a link to the original article with a comment that this whole situation reminded me of the "niggardly debate" from 1999.  In 1999, David Howard, a gay white man who worked for the mayor's office in Washington, DC, used the word "niggardly" to describe how Washington DC's budget should be handled.  Other staffers, unfamiliar with the word "niggardly", thought Howard was being racist.  They complained and Howard was soon compelled to resign his position.  His story quickly ended up in the news.

The word "niggardly", for those who don't know, means miserly, stingy, or parsimonious.  That word has no racial connotations whatsoever, but because it bears a strong resemblance to a certain racist epithet, some people think it should be struck from the English language.  Most people are unfamiliar with the word niggardly's meaning and may be shocked when it's used in today's politically correct world.  Those who dare say it can end up in hot water-- at least until people consult a dictionary, which few people will bother to do.  So it's probably easiest to just not use that word and discourage others from using it, right?  That was my former Facebook friend's position.

I was disgusted that these two men-- David Howard and the teacher who blogged about homophones-- got in trouble over their correct use of language and said so on Facebook.  I was quickly taken to task by my former Facebook friend, who is very liberal, works as a teacher, and has an annoying penchant for political correctness coupled with the extreme need to "school" people.  Those who know me well know that I can't stand people who talk to me like I'm stupid.  Sue me.  I have an ego.

This guy kept lecturing me about why the word "niggardly", because it sounds like the word "nigger", ought to be rendered obsolete because there are other, less offensive words that express the same thing.  The trouble is, that word is not in and of itself offensive.  It just sounds like an offensive word.  My former teaching friend basically told me that any teacher who used this word would be doing a poor job because he or she would risk "offending" students.  Tell that to my high school English teacher who included the word in a weekly vocabulary list.

It occurs to me that my former friend was kind of guilty of the same thing.  He was offending me by talking to me like I was stupid; thus, his "lesson" wasn't being absorbed.  In fact, I was actively resisting what he was communicating because he was turning me off with his insistence on forcing political correctness and hectoring me.  It was pissing me off, so I quit listening.

Now, there are certainly times when a person can learn from being offended.  I remember a very embarrassing incident from high school.  I was taking a public speaking course and delivering a speech about euthanasia.  I misspoke at one point and said something really shocking and offensive.  In fact, what I said wasn't what I really meant, but people still heard it and reacted.  And my teacher, a very tough and astute gay man who also taught theater, told me that a very famous person had once said what I had just communicated.  He paused for dramatic effect and said, "Adolf Hitler."

Naturally, I was *pissed* that my teacher had just compared me to Hitler, especially since he knew very well what I had said wasn't what I'd actually meant.  And when I reacted angrily, he said, "Say what you mean and mean what you say."  I have never forgotten that lesson.  It made me more aware of the power of language.  Because of that incident, I think sometimes being "offended" can lead to great growth and self-exploration, even if it hurts.

So Bill and I were talking about this-- somehow we'd gotten back on this topic after talking about LTG West and her fantastic story-- and Bill said, "You know, I think perhaps the overly politically correct climate we live in may have led to the rise of Donald Trump."

I listened intently as Bill explained.  He said, "Donald Trump speaks to the many American people who are tired of being told what they should and shouldn't think or say.  He's parroting what they want to express, ugly as it is."

I have to admit, I kind of agree with Bill's assessment.  There are a lot of people in the United States who are feeling disenfranchised.  They used to enjoy a status that they no longer have.  They are pissed off about it, but feel powerless to stop it.  There is social pressure not to talk about it or think about that loss of exclusive status, but just accept it.  They're angry, so they grumble among like minded people.

Here comes Donald Trump, who has a keen instinct for saying the things that regular folks feel like they can't say.  He's a powerful mouthpiece for their discontent.  He gets up and speaks and that excites the disenfranchised people who feel like they've lost their voice.  He excites them so much by saying what they want to hear that they overlook all of the other horrible racist, misogynistic, xenophobic stuff he says.  They brush it aside because they want to "take back their country".  Pretty soon, they start saying the same poisonous things.  Pretty soon the quiet grumbling among like minded people snowballs into fierce shouting and fighting at pro Trump political rallies.  People start getting hurt or killed.

But what kind of country do the people who want to "make America great again" miss?  A country where only certain people could get ahead?   A country where someone lacking a penis and white skin was forever doomed to be among the downtrodden?  They miss the "good old days" and embrace Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" rhetoric, but "the good old days" were only good for certain people.

I have to wonder if maybe certain people wouldn't be so excited by Trump if we took a more tolerant and gradual stance toward people who resisted the initial change into a society that is more equal.  Lasting change takes time and effort.  It's hard to get people to change their minds, especially when one approaches the task in a forceful and demanding manner.  When my former Facebook friend approached me with shame and condescension, I responded by crossing my arms and closing my mind.  After awhile, I grew to actively dislike him.  We are not friends.  His lectures didn't convince me of anything and, in fact, just made me think he's a creep.  I won't be listening to anything he has to say anymore.

Bill Maher compares a Hitler speech to what we've heard from Trump...

Speaking of Hitler, he and Trump have some things in common.  Hitler came into power in Germany post World War I.  He got some very disenfranchised people excited about his ideas of "taking back the country".  Pretty soon, ordinarily decent people were saying and doing things they probably never would have done otherwise.  History has a way of repeating itself when people are unaware.  It's not lost on some astute Americans that Trump's inflammatory rhetoric is quite a lot like Hitler's in some ways.

Although this is obviously slanted against Trump, I think it makes some astute comparisons...

Everybody wants to be heard.  That's why I am not a fan of extreme political correctness, per se.  Sometimes people need to say things that sound harsh or ugly.  Saying those things and talking about them rationally can lead to changes that are fair and acceptable for everyone.  Attempting to quash authentic thoughts and ideas, even if they are offensive, can eventually lead to loudmouthed monsters like Donald Trump.  

If Trump is elected, will he be as bad as Hitler?  I don't know.  There are checks and balances in our government system that perhaps post World War I Germany didn't have-- and I honestly don't know because I'm not German and haven't studied the history behind the German government prior to Hitler's ascent.  Still, I think there's something to the idea that trying to force change too quickly on people who can't or won't change can lead to situations like the one we're in right now... with two very unappealing candidates running for president and a lot of people around the world-- not just Americans-- terrified about the United States' upcoming election results and what they may mean for the future.

Incidentally, had it not been for immigration, LTG Nadja West would probably not be in the admirable position she is in today.  Think about it.


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