Fox: Politically correct, or just plainly civil?

Friday, June 4, 2010

There have been a lot of words spoken and written recently about political correctness. These days, it seems to be politically correct to speak out against political correctness.

After all, the anti-PC crowd will tell you that political correctness stifles honesty. That you can't call a spade a spade. That those of us who think political correctness -- whatever that really means -- are trying to control language and giving short shrift to The First Amendment.

I say hogwash. I would use another word, but I can't -- I like my job.

I would, if I could, use the same word to describe the term "political correctness." I prefer words that aren't made up: like "respectful" or "civil." And I prefer words and ideas that are respectful and civil. I think, for the most part, we all do.

That's why we're careful, especially around people we don't really know. That caution doesn't always last, nor should it. It's rare to find a long-time married couple that speaks to each other the way they did when they were on their first date. The same goes for long-time co-workers or friends.

But most of the people in the world, I really don't know. If you take the world's population and subtract the number of friends I have, there are probably ... oh, I don't know ... about 6 billion people I haven't met yet. Give or take a few.

So I think it's natural to be cautious.

Take the word "retarded," for instance. Years ago, it was an accepted term, especially when describing people with low intelligence. And scientifically, it's correct in some sense -- an individual's growth has been retarded (in other words, slowed).

But as society has evolved, we put more emphasis on understanding the problem. As a result, the retardation falls away into the background and they're looked at, treated and accepted more as people. Consequently, the label seems more and more inappropriate.

That, contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, is a good thing.

It's the same way with other situations. I'm not just talking about the obvious -- race, religion, etc. -- but in other everyday situations. It might be honest to call a 300-pound man "fat," or an 80-year-old woman "a geezer" or someone with an alcohol problem "a lush," but that honesty doesn't really help the situation.

We've spent a lifetime of learning and living, and to boil that effort down to one word is insulting. We all deserve more than a label. If nothing else, labels are dishonest.

Now, the anti-PC crowd is correct in that this country believes in free speech. A person is totally within his or her rights to label someone regardless of civility. However, free speech is a two-way street. Having that idea criticized isn't an infringement on your rights -- it's someone else exercising his or her rights.

And, civil or not, that's how the game is played.