We live in a world where it seems that we are demanded to be politically correct. Simultaneously, we live in the same world where a person’s refusal of political correctness in his or her word choices can be seen as a badge of honor. People from politicians to comedians seem to clamber for that sort of honor. Conversely, again, entertainers and public figures frequently can be ousted from their positions for less than politically correct word choices. The big question that remains here is why is it so important to us that a person either exercise political correctness or not?
My personal answer to this question deals with understanding one’s context of speaking. Context can mean a lot to person depending on their walk of life. For example, I am school counselor. I have to be fairly politically correct when speaking with students, colleagues, parents, etc. This is understandable since I deal with a wide array of people of varying creeds, beliefs and religions. If I drop this social contract, I run the risk of offending a person, thus causing possibly dramatic consequences in the workplace.
The context of my home is another story. I can say almost anything (almost) to my wife with only the fear of a mild chiding if even that. I would not have to fear reprimanded from my boss or other superiors if I used a politically incorrect reference at home. (I do not, usually, but this is just for the sake of an example).
My point is that the more public the context the more social contract demands political correctness. There are exceptions, of course, as social contracts are not exactly hard and fast rules. Some see the overuse of political correctness as an a front to our 1st Ammendment rights to free speech. While defenders of PC word choices say the 1st Ammendment only guarantee the government cannot sanction a person (for the most part) for using potentially offensive vocabulary, they often maintain that this does not make one free of civil consequences for using certain words. People like Gilbert Gottfried who lost his job as the voice of the Afflac duck do to insensitive jokes tweeted about the 2011 tsunamis in Japan can attest to this.
However, some people can get around the social contract for political correctness. Donald Trump, made many politically incorrect remarks during his 2016 campaign for presidency and won. He secured votes from a constituancy that did not necessarily value strict PC word choice or, at least, overlooked lapses in it. What does this mean for political correctness? Are those who are PC morally superior or just fussy?
There is no real easy answer to this question. There are times when being PC not only makes sense but is a no-brainer. I certainly wouldn’t use racial slurs at work (or ever). There are other times where it seems not nearly as clear. One may mildly offend a person by using the term “handicapped” rather than “differently abled” for example. However, what determines whether a word is offensive, is the context it is spoken in.
Whatever the consequences or lack thereof may be for a person who says things that are not politically correct, one thing must be kept in mind–intention. Comedians George Carlin and Louis C.K. have both used the “N-word” in their comedy. This was permissible by the audience since the context was that they were making a point about word choices. More importantly, the audience knew their intent and knew that they were not racist. On a different example, a person campaigning to have wheelchair ramps in all public buildings may not be as chided when using the term “handicapped” instead of “differently abled.”
The point is that certain lapses in word choices may be overlooked if one’s heart is in the right place. This does not mean ALL word choices. I will not, therefore, commit to say we must be 100% PC all day ever day nor will I say we should be able to use any word we want without consequences. In the end, we communicate in language, we think in language and the language we use is telling of our character. I will not exhort one to always be PC, but I will say that one should always exercise caution in making sure that the words one says closely matches their true intentions and character.