Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Politically Correct, or Particularly Conscientious?

While I would argue that teen magazines are typically a harmful influence on developing female minds, I admit to having read them as a girl who still grew up to buck the system.

Some of my favorite parts of those magazines were the silly little quizzes.  I don't remember most of them, of course, but there is one question from one particular quiz that has always stuck with me.  The question was, "What does 'PC' really stand for?"

The possible answers were politically correct, personal computer, and particularly conscientious.  I chose the last option.  That question had a lasting impact on the way I view speech.

Fast forward to today.  There is a meme going around on Facebook:

Text: "You find it offensive? I find it funny. That's why I'm happier than you."

That's just common sense, right?  It is easier to be happy when you don't care about how others feel.  But is that really what you want?

It's not about avoiding "offense," or about being politically correct.  It's not about censoring free speech.  It's about being particularly conscientious.  It's about being compassionate and considerate, and thinking about how your words might affect other people.  I'd rather rest easy knowing that I've treated others kindly than enjoy a cheap laugh at others' expense.

That said, there is a difference between harm and offensiveness, though they often overlap.  I think it's important to look at why something might be perceived as offensive.  Is it because it contains a swear word?  Is it because it has to do with sex?  Is it because it's blasphemous?  Is it because it promotes acceptance of harmless behavior that is against some people's religion?  Is it because it criticizes harmful behavior that is accepted by the mainstream?

Or is it because it's racist, sexist, classist, transphobic, homophobic/biphobic, ableist, speciesist, body-negative, objectifying, shaming, stigmatizing, triggering, etc.; or callously mocking other people's deeply-held religious beliefs?  Or is it just plain mean?

If it's in the second group, I think it's best to avoid saying it.  If not, it's probably okay.  But it's important to be open to hearing other viewpoints about it.  If someone tells you that your well-intended joke is indeed harmful, I think it's wise to reflect and consider whether they may have a point, and apologize if warranted.

Furthermore, the kind of happiness attained at others' expense is a shallow kind of happiness.  Research suggests that happiness attained from having a sense of purpose and helping others is the best for our well-being.

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