Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
A couple of days ago, I started a conversation on Facebook about the use of a specific word. I’m not going to tell you what that specific word is, because it is beside the point I want to make here. The conversation was lively, most people disagreed with me, it got a little testy, and I eventually deleted the entire thing.
Sidebar: The instant I deleted the conversation, I felt foolish. I felt like a fool for two reasons. First, as soon as the conversation began to get very personal, I “took my ball and went home.” Disagree with me? Make it personal? Conversation over. That was childish. Second, as my wife says “If you can shut someone up, you can control them.” I felt like I’d been shut up. The personal bit of the conversation was basically “I don’t understand why anyone is even discussing this, it’s sad, you don’t care about how people feel.” To paraphrase the paraphrase: this is settled science, so just knuckle under and behave the way you are supposed to. There is nothing to discuss here.
Sidebar to the sidebar: There is no such thing as settled science. Anyone who tells you that there is no reason to have the discussion is just trying to shut you up. Okay, back to the point.
Here is the point I was trying to make. It stems from something that happened to my 15-year-old daughter at school. She referred to someone using a specific term. She was not being derogatory, she was not making fun. She simply used the term to describe the condition of the person, so that the person she was talking to would know who she was talking about. She was then told “You can’t say that, it’s mean.” She came home and asked “Why is that mean?” I think she understands why the term can be mean, she was just frustrated that the person she was talking to did not take the term in the context it was used, but rather ascribed meaning to my daughter’s words that she did not intend.
And there’s the root of my point. Someone heard the word, had their own ideas about what that word means, and decided that is what my daughter meant when she said it. So I took to Facebook to point out that words have meaning, and that words have different meanings in different contexts. Rather than ascribe meaning to a word that isn’t there, in the context of the spoken and written word, we should strive to understand the person communicating. We should take what we know about the person, and ask ourselves “Is what I think I am hearing consistent with what I know about this person?” We should ask “When you use that word, what do you mean?”
By now you may have guessed the word that was used. On dictionary.com the word has two definitions. The first is a simple statement of fact. No moral judgement exists in that definition. The second definition is different. It means, literally, something completely different than the first definition. There is a moral judgement explicit in the definition. When my daughter used the word, she intended the first definition. When I spoke about it on Facebook, I was speaking about the first definition. No moral judgements about anyone were implied. Yet, moral judgements were made about us. Even when trying to explain that words have meaning, and that understanding each other is important, moral judgements were hurled at us. Victoria is mean. I am insensitive. I am unnecessarily agitative. I think “those people” are worthless. We are offensive if we use that word, regardless of the intent. We should use other words. It should be noted, of course, that some of the words we were instructed to use were found offensive by others.
So, the more I thought about this political correctness (because that is all this is), the more I began to realize that words really have no meaning. Words are meaningless. Only feelings matter. I feel like you meant a certain thing, and therefore you did. The words you used have no meaning whatsoever. This is the insidious nature of political correctness. Political correctness has created a culture of communicative laziness. We no longer “seek first to understand.” Rather, it seems, we seek first to find offense.
Finally, what have I learned? Yesterday morning I would have said “I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.” But as the whole thing sunk in, I’ve learned that I’m stronger than that. I like to discuss Big Important Issues. It’s why I’m a member of Ricochet. It’s why I post things on Facebook, and engage people in discussion in person. I think talking about these things is important. And if you don’t like it, you can lump it. I won’t be shut up. Never again.Published in