At Wheaton, we pride ourselves on having a student body who are empowered and know how to use their voice. We are committed, rightly so, to advancing inclusivity and equality. We are active in these pursuits, and quickly vocal when we discover people that do not uphold our expectations of what is right. Much of the country similarly monitors the conversations that happen each day, especially in the space of social media. However, we are falling prey to a larger trend: In our push for political correctness, the country is growing divided, not inclusive, and in the process, teaching us all the wrong lessons.
I bring up this point because of one primary reason: an increasingly large portion of the population is fed up with the phenomenon of political correctness, as demonstrated by the rise of Donald Trump and the stability of the support he has retained from his base. Despite countless condemnations from the media and the liberal left about the indecency of Trump’s actions and words, his base remains unimpressed, and increasingly disdainful of those who called it out in the first place. If we agree that political correctness has arisen from our history with racism and discrimination, and that those are inherently bad things, then why does the term generate such strongly negative connotations?
The answer is simply that we have failed to learn two things: When is the right time to speak, and how one should speak when dealing with something offensive.
To start, we must recognize a simple fact. At the individual level, getting offended is a choice. You have the choice to discern whether or not they meant harm, and even more importantly, you have the choice of whether or not to give the weight of their words. If you choose not to give them weight, you take away that person’s power to hurt or offend you.
Of course, it is not always as simple as this. There are and will be moments that warrant offense being taken, and these deserve to be called out. However, I would argue that we can be more selective of these moments. Rather than nitpicking on a potentially offensive line or a minor slight, think about what you will be adding to the conversation.
Will the other person be better and wiser after you’ve said your piece? Or will they be embarrassed, defensive, and hostile? So far, we have been ignoring the psychology of persuasion. Attacking people will not change their mind; it will only make them more set in their way of thinking. We must understand that everyone has a unique viewpoint, and just because they did or said something “wrong” does not mean they are a bad person.
So how should we handle offensive things? This article is not telling you to silence yourself, or that you should suck it up and simply never speak out. I simply ask, instead of reacting aggressively, take a step back, think, and try to build a constructive conversation. Like it or not, we are all in the country together, and we need to find a way to cooperate. In some instances, this will require taking the high road, because attacking people for things they have said will never change their mind, and it will only harden the divisions within the country.
As we fight for inclusivity, we must not limit the word to one political group. Together, we can unite the minds of our country with a shared understanding and acceptance of how we should act; but it will only be through an open and respectful dialogue.