Political correctness is formally known by Oxford Dictionaries as “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” From politicians (or attempted politicians) such as Donald Trump to reality TV stars like Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” many claim to have been “victimized” by the “political correctness police.”
Countless people interpret society’s focus on political correctness as an attack on freedom of speech, a cornerstone of our society. Many would argue that no matter how harmful one’s opinions are – whether it be a politician or silly reality TV star – they have the right to say what they feel and shouldn’t have to edit their opinions out of concern for the possible implications of their statements, especially if those views are shared by a significant portion of the general population.
A quote by Voltaire comes to mind in the midst of this debate: “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.” And I, like Voltaire, will do the same. We, as Americans, and as a free society, should defend our right to speak how we feel without being persecuted by authorities. In America, one absolutely should have the right to express oneself.
We, as human beings capable of rational thought, are more than welcome to hold any viewpoint, no matter how bigoted, racist, sexist, classist or any other “-ist” you can conjure up. We are more than welcome to express those views.
However, as human beings capable of rational thought, when we express those views we must expect a strict review of those thoughts by our peers. You may have the right to say something, but I have the right to challenge it. And this is where the concept of political correctness kicks in.
Look through any newspaper, book or other source of media from 100 years ago.You are practically guaranteed to find rampant examples of any type of “-ism” you can think of. Look through any of sources of media today and you’ll mostly find criticisms of those characteristics. Is it because of the overreaching tyranny of the PC police?
Is it because we as a society have realized that our language has power, and if we rampantly use language that harms marginalized members of our society, we set up a social system that allows verbal abuse, thereby leading to the institutionalized marginalization of racial minorities, women, the LGBT community and the disabled?
Or perhaps it’s because Americans have developed a greater sense of empathy for our fellow peers, and through history, social interaction and media, have realized the pain we inflict on them with the use of harmful language. I personally believe it’s a combination of the latter two influences. I believe we have realized the power of language and developed a larger sense of compassion for our fellow man. Political correctness is the realization that our words are a collective representation of our progress as a society.
While we all have the right to say what we feel, we must be wary of the social repercussions of our words – whether it’s the harm they cause to others or the negative consequences we inflict on ourselves. We must realize that freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence or backlash from our peers. Freedom of speech may guarantee your right to say what you feel, but human nature guarantees that harmful ideologies will be challenged by those who disagree. And while I may fight for your right to speak harmful words, I will fight just as vigorously for my right to speak up as well.