“Political correctness” certainly isn’t a term which is new to the world, but it still remains a highly-debated subject. We’ve all come across something which we or somebody else deems to be ‘not politically correct’. Over the years, we have heard so much about what isn’t politically correct and what is offensive to people that it almost becomes impossible to keep track of what we should and shouldn’t say.
How can we be so sure of not offending people when everyone we meet is different? Each person you meet has been brought up in a different environment, has been through different experiences and suffers from different problems than the next person. You cannot jokily declare that you ‘have OCD’ because you like to keep your books lined up in alphabetical order, nor can you state that you ‘had a heart attack’ when you saw that huge spider, because what if you’re speaking to someone who has genuinely suffered from either of those problems? While your next-door neighbor might reply with a laugh, your work colleague will find it highly offensive because she had an aunt who suffered a heart attack last year.
Who Makes the Rules?
We all know that the N-word shouldn’t be uttered in any form or fashion, but what happens when you hear your Nigerian neighbor use it in a friendly greeting to his black friend? Their children will use it among each other in school, which will lead white children to wonder why their parents have told them not to say it. And so begins the confusion, the double standards and the frustration. Why are men forbidden to criticize a woman’s outfit, yet friends laugh in unison when a wife tells her husband he looks ‘terrible in that shirt’? Surely it must be assumed that every woman is more easily offended than any man, although this is certainly not the case. Why do we seem to have one rule for one set of people and another for the next?
The Blame Game
The media tends to be blamed for many things nowadays, including prejudicing everyone against Muslims, scaremongering and telling half-truths. Perhaps we also have the media to thank for making us a generation of people who are afraid to offend our fellow man. Recently, footage was released showing a pedestrian knocking a cyclist off a bike after the cyclist made a rude gesture to him. Surprisingly, the general attitude towards the video was that the cyclist should not have made the offensive gesture towards the pedestrian. Has society become so afraid of offending that it is considered worse to stick your middle finger up than it is to physically assault a stranger?
Over the years, common words have become offensive, which is perhaps why the older generation come across as so much more politically incorrect than those who are younger. While Gershwin musicals and Victorian novels use to make full use of the word ‘gay’ (meaning ‘happy’), it is now used to describe either a homosexual or something which is uncool.
The word ‘retard’ was used back in the day by medics to describe somebody who was developing at a slower than average rate, but now it is highly offensive both when used in this context and as an insult.
Perhaps we cannot blame a single factor for society’s fear of offending others. Maybe some of us believe that this developing idea of political correctness is a great asset to our communities. Perhaps we should all try harder to avoid offending people. Or maybe we should be of the same opinion as author Salman Rushdie, who once said, “If you’re offended, it’s your problem.”