I sat in the congregation listening to a supposed sermon on the basics of the gospel. The focus soon turned to the family, with an introduction by the speaker to Webster’s definition of the term before the dictionary became “politically correct.” *Cue laughter from the crowd.* I shook my head, discouraged, wondering how there could be such a disconnect between spreading the good word and showing respect through good words.
When “politically correct” is used as a jab or an insult to shut someone down, this is done with a few common assumptions. Political correctness becomes a buzzword for bowing to the majority, concern over popular opinion, and over-sensitivity. Assert that someone is too concerned with “being PC” in some circles and they lose all credibility.
For me, choosing politically correct language is not about popularity or majority opinion. In fact, it actually represents the opposite: PC language denotes respect for individuals and groups who are in the minority, oppressed, or other-ed. The goal is not to “avoid offence,” but to actively demonstrate respect and compassion. Language choices are not about how I look to others, but how I recognize and esteem others.
I celebrate Webster expanding their definition of marriage beyond the “traditional” notion of one man and one woman, not because I want to be politically correct, but because I believe language matters. I honor Webster’s updated definition of family- single parents, same-sex marriages, adoptive families, church families, extended families, and more – because it is inclusive and gives the power to define back to the defined.
Intentionally using inclusive language matters because it challenges harmful societal norms and disrupts the hurtful status quo. Politically correct language invites oppressed groups to reclaim their identity and direct the narrative. Inclusive language is about the majority stepping back to listen and learn.
Perhaps that’s the most frustrating part of all for those of us in the majority; politically correct language isn’t about us at all – not our comfort; not our history, not our preferences.
Striving to use politically correct terminology can sometimes feel like treading through a language minefield. This is why I like to think of it as inclusive language, rather than “correct.” Actively deciding to use inclusive language requires humility. It means acknowledging and apologizing when I misspeak. It means regularly working to educate myself and adapting to changing language.
The goal of inclusive language is not to stifle or prohibit healthy debate. Two individuals using inclusive language can still have a stirring, thought-provoking conversation. Racist, sexist, and classist language does not elevate an argument and it is not necessary to speak truth.
It’s far too easy to call “political correctness” too complicated and disregard it because it feels as though we’re constantly stumbling. The temptation to retreat into comfortable familiarity is strong, but most worthwhile things require significant effort. I have a great deal to work on when it comes to inclusive language, but I can not refuse to use what I know and strive to do better. I must have the humility to ask when I don’t know, admit when I mess up, and try again.
So, in response to those who try to wield “PC” like an insult, I say, “Go ahead and call me politically correct. I can take a compliment.”