The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing – Proverbs 12:18
I thank God every day for political correctness.
Being politically correct or “PC” is the reason people don’t call me a “jap” anymore which happened by the way when I was a kid. It’s the reason I wasn’t called “four eyes” in high school just because I had glasses. It’s the reason being a “nerd” became a cool thing instead of an insult. We’ve made it socially unacceptable to ridicule and demean people based on their gender, their ethnicity, their physical appearance, or their abilities. And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a good thing. Yet somehow being politically correct has itself come under attack – mostly by people who have no idea what it means or why its important. The look at being “PC” as a burden. Having to police themselves or come under attack for being insensitive, uncaring, bigoted, or racist. I have found that most of the time when people complain about being “PC” it’s because they were caught doing or saying something they shouldn’t have.
“Don’t be so sensitive!” is how they often respond.
Putting the blame on the victim for something the bully is doing wrong. “What’s the harm in a little joking around? Nobody takes it seriously.” They don’t? Let me give you some scientific FACTS. When we stereotype people (which is where many non-“PC” insults come from), like when we criticize women as being bad drivers or we question why an Asian kid didn’t do well on a math test or when we assume overweight people are lazy, here’s what happens: the victims overindulge, become more hostile, and perform worse on tests. And that’s true regardless of “gender, age, race, or religion.” When kids feel bullied, they become more depressed, feel more sad and lonely, lose interest in activities that made them happy, and are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school. Making fun of someone who is overweight doesn’t “encourage them to shed a few pounds.” No, instead it increases their chances of depression and more often than not leads to increases in weight. It’s not a matter of sensitivity – it’s a matter of the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
We don’t realize how powerful words can be.
When I was a kid, I bought into the idea that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” But as it turns out, that’s not true. Name-calling has potentially disastrous effects. Whether its by parents, friends, or peers, ridiculing or shaming someone by calling them a name can haunt a person well into adulthood. Depression, anxiety, anger, hostility, and disassociation are only some of the effects. In fact, verbal abuse is as damaging to the brain as physical or sexual abuse. Name-calling in fact CAN hurt you. What you say matters. Something that James wrote about in his letter to the church.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. – James 3:3-6
The tongue can indeed cause a forest fire of consequences.
You don’t have to look much further than the recent presidential election and Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” to see evidence of it. Many people blew it off as just “something that guys say.” And while it might be true that lots of guys say things like that, usually in junior high and not as adults, does that matter? Does it matter if it’s been socially acceptable for hundreds of years? Sexual harassment used to be tolerated until it wasn’t. Using ethnic slurs used to be tolerated until it wasn’t. Bashing the LGBT community used to be tolerated until it wasn’t. But let’s be clear, these things still happen. Even when it isn’t socially acceptable. Locker room talk demeans and belittles women whether they can hear it or not. Just because the target of your aggression doesn’t hear you say it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect. Talking about women as objects influences not only your thinking but those around you. When you are in a group of people who all think like you do, it’s easy to buy into the notion that it’s okay. Even though you know it isn’t. So what you say and how you say it both have serious consequences. A little quip of the tongue can affect how we live our lives. It’s why James was cautioning church members in particular about keeping a bit on their tongue, to prevent them from saying something that might have long lasting effects.
There are plenty of verses in the Bible and plenty of research to back all of this up.
What we say and how we say it is important. Not just negatively but positively, too. Think back on a time in your life when someone gave you a compliment or encouraged you when you needed it most. That person may not even have realized the impact of what they said. It might have been one little throwaway line or something they said in passing, but it’s something you’ve remembered for years or even decades. I tell this story a lot, so forgive me if I’ve shared it with you already, but when Emma was young we went to Disneyland for the first time just the two of us. A real Daddy/Daughter Day. And at the time she was very much into the princesses, so we spent much of the day in line to see each and every one we could. I bought her an autograph book so she could get them to sign it and off we went! Inside of it, I wrote “Daddy/Daughter Day” and the date and when we got to Ariel she opened up Emma’s autograph book and just stopped. She looked up at me and said, “Oh, when I was little we used to do Daddy/Daughter Days, too! Those were the best.” I don’t know if she was talking in character as Ariel or remembering her own childhood, but the way she looked up at me when she said it was all the affirmation I needed that I was a good dad. It’s not that I didn’t believe I was, but to have a complete stranger say something like that is just such a great feeling. I’m sure the woman who was portraying Ariel that day doesn’t remember me at all, but I will always remember her. Our words can have a powerful effect.
That’s why I’m so puzzled about this attack on political correctness.
I just don’t understand why anyone would think it’s a bad thing to think about what you say before you say it. Some have criticized “PC” as a means of restricting religious liberty. Some have outright called it an attack on Christianity, including Franklin Graham. But it is not. What he calls an attack on Christianity to me is an insensitivity on the part of Christians to people who do not share our world view. Its not that we shouldn’t speak up on behalf of Christ – which by the way we do all the time on TV, on the radio, on the Internet, through the press, in Congress – but that we need to be sensitive to others. Not that we have to agree with them or believe as they do, but that we need to stop and consider what we do before we do it. This country was founded on religious freedom and that was the entire basis for the doctrine of separation of church and state. No one should feel forced or compelled to participate in an exercise of religion by government mandate. That has not stopped millions of children from praying before final exams. Graham’s criticism came on the heels of retired Lt. General William Boykin being pressured to withdraw from speaking at West Point at a prayer breakfast. He wasn’t pressured because he was Christian because after all it was a prayer breakfast. He wasn’t pressured because of his military service, after all he served in special forces and was afforded the rank of general. It was because General Boykin made remarks about the Muslim faith, saying that Islam was a totalitarian way of life and shouldn’t be protected under the First Amendment. He wasn’t being criticized for lacking finesse and this certainly wasn’t about being “PC.” It was about a military leader advocating to restrict the rights and protections afforded everyone under the law simply because of their religious views. And for Graham to defend that kind of behavior is exactly why Christians are often seen as intolerant and prejudiced when most of us are not.
Let’s not confuse political correctness with intolerance and prejudice.
In fact political correctness is about curbing those behaviors and developing a new way of tolerance and love. And again tolerance doesn’t mean acceptance. It means treating every human being with dignity and respect. Even the ones who don’t offer us the same in return. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but to the person it affects, it is. Even changing our terminology from policeman to police officer or fireman to fire fighter might not seem to be a big deal, but believe me, they can be. Words create a culture that either enforces stereotypes or works to break them down. Yes, at it can take time and effort to make those changes in our own vocabulary, and yes vocabulary seems to change all the time, but are we really that lazy we can’t do something that honors and respects others? Are we really going to complain about being considerate to others? Jesus himself commanded us to love others as we would love ourselves. Would we want people to call us names or belittle us or value us less based on our gender, our politics, our religion, our body type, or our beliefs? Next time you are frustrated with being “PC” take time for a moment to imagine if the world were different. What if America was largely a Muslim country instead of a Christian one? What if our local schools forced us to say a prayer to Allah? What if the majority of the population was Arabic or Mexican or Asian and they wanted to forbid us from speaking English and wanted to call hamburgers “Freedom burgers” because they didn’t like the European connection to them? How would you feel living in a world that reminds you everyday that you don’t belong and that your contribution is not welcome? Is that who we are as Christians? We don’t have to agree with one another, but we sure can be respectful. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.