Recently I have noticed a number of people using the phrase ‘Political Correctness gone Mad!!!!!”
There are stories around about how university staff are being sacked or disciplined because they use ‘trigger’ words, which may re-ignite someone’s trauma. Examples are easily found, thanks to a ‘Google’ search. People are being warned not to use the word ‘violate’ (as in ‘violate the law’) because it may trigger a sense of unease in students who have been violated in the past.
Recently the Midwives association has put out a document recommending that in referring to ta mother giving birth, ‘woman’ be replaced with ‘person’: as if anyone other than a woman might be capable of giving birth. (Shades of ‘Loretta’ in the ‘Life of Brian’).
So I wonder if being Christian has anything to contribute here.
The first thing that comes to me is that the term ‘politically correct’ derives from the opponents of a certain form of speech.
Certain forms of language do exclude, or do presume a norm to which everyone should adhere. We have learned not to use exclusively masculine language when in fact we mean the whole human race, so that almost universally in theological books when previously one might have read ‘The advent of Christ radically changes the place of Man before God’, now, in order to include the whole human race we say ‘The Advent of Jesus Christ radically changes the position of Humanity’ before God.
For me this took a bit of doing, but I could see the case that was being made by women that my language excluded them. So on it goes.
I say “If some one asks me to do a thing and I can easily do it then in kindness, why not?”
The original impetus behind what was derided as ‘political correctness’ was simply a request to be aware of how some one else experiences a given form of speech, and to modify my own according to their request.
But things get murkier! Power is inevitably involved. When I am asked to change my language, it is another person who is trying to make me change. That is the exercise of power.
Being the subject of another person’s power is an altogether more difficult matter than my being kind, because now I am not sure of their motives.
Here is an example from another sphere.
When I was working as a Theological Teacher, it was part of my responsibility to produce liturgies for various occasions. I would make up a draft, and then show it to the Principal of the college. He would then send it back with the changes that he wanted.
I had done certain things. Based on my skill set as Priest, and for good reason. He wanted changes, because he thought that he was the ‘author’ of the liturgy, and I was his helper, providing a first draft. I had not signed up to be his secretary.
The power imbalance between me and my boss meant that his will prevailed, but I was not happy, because I was not treated as a colleague who also had skills, and it was not clear to me at first what the process was meant to be.
Could I, on the basis of my feeling ‘uncomfortable’ accused him of bullying? The key to the situation was that I thought that I was not being treated ‘fairly’. I began to feel uncomfortable because power was being exercised over me, but that I had not given my consent to this structure.
I think that those who use the catch-cry ‘political correctness gone mad’ feel the same way: that somehow they are being made to do something by people whose motives they do not trust, or made to do something is circumstances in which the power dynamics are not clear.
One becomes ‘defensive’ in situations where one feels attacked, and needs to ‘defend’.
This is where a Christian catch phrase becomes important. It is ‘Mutual submission in love’ (Ephesians 5). Then the exercise of power one over the other, when I am asked to do something, comes not from someone whom I think is trying to destroy me. It comes from someone whom I know would also submit to med if I asked.
I have been impressed in some recent conversations when a person has said to me as locum “Well this is how we have done it, this is what I like, but it is your call”. Here I get a sense that the other person has a view, but is exercising ‘mutual submission in love’.
I think that if the ‘politically correct’ thing to do were to exercise ‘mutual submission in love’ we might have fewer problems. But then those who have power do not always see what power they have, and will not willingly give it up. It is the mutuality of submission that makes this way of being work.