Friday afternoon I was having lunch with my mother and the conversation we had while at lunch inspired me to write this post.
I had driven through one of the less, shall we say “scenic” parts of the city in order to get to an appointment earlier in the day. While we were eating lunch, I brought up the neighborhood I had driven through and commented about how often the neighborhood – a low income housing project – had been rebuilt/revamped: at least three times in the last 40 years because most of the residents there destroyed it. After being chastised for driving through that neighborhood, mom told me that yes, she was amazed too at the number of times the neighborhood had to be rebuilt and blamed it mostly on welfare state mentality – I, of course, agreed. Obviously, I’m my mother’s daughter
But what struck me about the conversation we had was what she said next. She said that she felt that that was something she couldn’t say to just anyone because there were people she wouldn’t want to offend by making such a statement. I asked her why she worried about speaking her mind and saying what she felt was the truth when so many others wouldn’t hesitate to be critical about the welfare system and how it ‘hadn’t done enough to help the poor’ and she answered: “two wrongs don’t make a right.” I pondered for a second before saying that just because you say something that may be politically incorrect to someone else who may become offended by it doesn’t make the statement in and of itself wrong, nor does it make it wrong to say.
I drove home yesterday thinking more about it and reflected a bit on my own struggles with this over the years. It used to be in my younger days (especially when I was a Democrat) that I tempered quite a bit of what I said in political/social issues discussions based on whether or not I felt I was going to hurt someone’s feelings over what I was saying. Our society has conditioned us over the last several decades to be this way, and it’s no wonder that even conservatives still have a tendency to be that way at times. I’ve gotten better about it and would venture to guess that about 85% of the time I no longer worry about if what I say in discussions on the issues of the day will offend others.
That still leaves 15% of the time I do temper my comments. I don’t like that.
One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to work on that 15% and whittle it down to about 5% – afterall, to a certain extent it’s human nature to not want to offend certain people, like your family, or your sweet elderly neighbor. I don’t think it’s wrong to want to kind of ‘hold back’ at those times.
The larger issue here, though, whether or not people agree with my comments on housing projects is that I know my mother isn’t the only one who feels that she has to modify her comments around people. I think political correctness as pushed over the last 40 years has put a stranglehold on real discussions that our policy makers and other leaders should be having. Having debates about the crime rate, for example, is not always easy because when you assert that a certain segment of society commits more crimes than others, someone always has to throw in “but all segements of society commit crimes, so why are you singling out this one? You should be ashamed.” That’s an attempt at accomplishing two things: 1) stifling legitimate debate by claiming “everyone does it” because if “everyone does it” then we need to come up with a blanket solution for all, rather than zeroing in and focusing on the segment of society most responsible for whatever problem is being discussed and 2) making you feel bad about having the ‘nerve’ to single out one group, even if you have the stats to back up your claim.
Freedom of speech means having the right to say something without worrying about whether or not you are going to offend someone. That’s not to say that you should, for example, tell the waitress at the restaurant you’re eating at that the food “tastes like [insert four letter word here]” – that’s not the type of ‘freedom of speech’ I’m talking about. I’m talking about your right to say what’s on your mind about a political/social issues topic without feeling guilty when someone looks at you like you’ve sprouted two heads for saying something that isn’t politically correct.
Conservatives, in general, tend not to be as politically correct as liberals, but there are, without a doubt, conservatives out there who do worry if certain topics – particularly about racial issues or gay marriage, for example – will offend people and they modify things they say accordingly out of worry they are going to hurt someone’s feelings. If you’re that type of conservative, join me in making a New Year’s resolution to work towards being able to discuss whatever issue is out there without feeling guilt over expressing your feelings. As I said earlier, there are times here and there where I do temper myself – it’s not as much as I used to …. and I’ve found the older I get, the less I do, but I know I still need to work on it.
So if you’re in the same boat, make a little deal with yourself to work beyond worrying about any guilt you may feel over saying something that might not go over well with the masses. If we’re going to work to resolve the issues we face today, we must get beyond worrying about how giving our full (not altered so as to spare feelings) opinions will play on the delicate sensibilities of others.
Related: My friend Cal over at California Conservative has a post up that touches on political correctness as it relates to NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s use of the word “thuggishly” recently to describe some in the city transit workers’ union who were, well, acting like thugs – but it somehow has been spun by the PCr’s as a racist remark.