Are kindness and political correctness the same?

December 1, 2016

 Over the past decade, especially within the last two years, American people have been inundated with jargon, insisting that political correctness has ruined this country. Being a therapist, and a generally curious and well-rounded person,  I'm intrigued by these beliefs. Has political correctness, a concept intended to breed tolerance, really "ruined" this country? If so, in what ways? If not, why are some people adamantly convinced that it has? My curious mind first takes me back to the beginning; what is political correctness?

 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines political correctness as "conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated." The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, "The avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against." 

 

This all sounds pretty reasonable, right? Why are so many people, then, offended by being asked to not offend others? Furthermore, why is the president-elect reinforcing the argument that political correctness is problematic, and should be eliminated?

 

My general sense of the above term was always calculated to some variety of kindness. Who could possibly have a valid argument against kindness? Upon further contemplation, I've decided that these two words have become synonymous with each other, but don't actually mean the same thing. If I'm going to investigate the definition of political correctness, it's only fair that I do the same for kindness. "The quality or state of being gentle and considerate" (Oxford English Dictionary, 2016) certainly sounds like the above definitions, but I'm noticing one small difference. The former is the fundamental avoidance of something, in this case - insult, while the latter, implies the presence of something - consideration.

 

My approach with clients, and with my own life, is greatly directed toward shifting focus toward presence over absence. I often tell clients, metaphorically, "If you want to go East, focus your attention on going East. You don't have to worry about 'not going West' if you just stay focused on your intended direction." In context, this means, we don't need to focus our attention and energy toward "not" hurting someone's feelings, as long as we remain intentional and consistent with being considerate and compassionate. It's often exhausting to avoid something. Not to mention, the brain still processes the thing you're avoiding. Try this exercise:

 

            Do not think of the color red. Whatever you do, don't think of red. Stop thinking

            of red. No red!

 

Now, I'm wondering how many of you still, in some way, thought of red. Perhaps, some of you achieved the request by simply thinking of another color, instead. This exercise is great for showing us how what we are attempting to avoid still finds its way into our consciousness, and occupies our energy. 

 

Considering the above premise, what if we start focusing all of our attention toward being kind, letting go of what we "shouldn't" do? If we're intentionally kind to one another, our potential to insult or harm is significantly reduced. In the event that we do say or do something hurtful, a foundation of kindness allows us to be curious about what we say and/or hear, and receive feedback. It is in this space, where we are able to learn. Sometimes, people don't mean to be hurtful, but simply don't have all the information they need, in order to know their gestures are marginalizing or insulting. Imagine judgment being removed from this scenario. One's guard is more likely to come down, in reception of learning new information. 

 

When deciding which side of the fence you're on, regarding "political correctness," consider letting go of choosing a side. Political correctness isn't the enemy. Allow the emotional guard from annoyance and fear of being judged over a comment dissolve into the background. Instead, be KIND, on purpose. Remember the Golden Rule most folks learn as children, "Do unto others, as you'd have done to you." Regardless of religiosity, spirituality, or morality, it's a pretty good principle to live by. 

 

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