Bill Maher, in his recent op-ed for the New York Times, make’s a really good point: As a society, we spend too much time focusing on criticizing people for their comments instead of learning how to co-exist with people we disagree with. His critique is a valid reflection of our current political climate, in which parties and media outlets jump on each other for any step, action, or behavior that is out of line, more so this year given the 2012 Elections.
There is one thing that Maher’s op-ed is not – it is not a call for reconciliation or for reaching out across the aisle, though I believe that his op-ed is an excellent starting ground for just that.
As a society we need to learn to get along with people we don’t always see eye-to-eye with. This is the only way to develop the productive discourse necessary to make change in this country. If we channel our energy into simply lambasting the other people, we fail to create the dialogue and compromise vital for progress. Criticizing one’s every step not only raises the animosity and tension but also makes discussions of any kind virtually impossible.
You can’t make progress or uphold your responsibilities if you fail at communicating. Communication is a cornerstone – without it you aren’t going to get anywhere.
Maher further argues that people have a right to offend and this attribute is what defines America – our ability to speak up no matter how unpopular what you say might be.
Essentially Maher, who is known for his colorful comments, argues for forgoing political correctness – and that is where I don’t agree.
Some comments are inappropriate regardless of circumstance and should be rebuked, such as Rush Limbaugh’s derogatory insults about student Sandra Fluke or Alan Colmes’ commentary about Rick Santorum’s infant son. [WHY?]
Moreover, political correctness exists to prevent us from offendingothers. However, racist or sexist remarks or jokes are also un-American. Since our country is filled with such diverse people and varying interests, using corrosive and offensive language, such as “retarded,” “Dothead,” or “sl-t” simply relegates people and showcases our inability to accept others who are not the same. Using such language oversimplifies the complexity of people and traps them within the limited boundaries of those words and language.
Political correctness ensures that when we talk about someone we focus on representing the individual, not just one aspect of her/his identity. People are not simply defined by their ethnicity, ability, age, nationality, gender, etcetera.
America is not a tolerant country because we are filled with different kinds of people. America is a tolerant country because we chose to accept people who are different than us, something we demonstrate through our actions and our words.
American politicians and media should monitor what they say because they not only represent the American people but also represent America to the outside world. What kind of image are we trying to portray? If America is rich in its diversity and welcoming of other cultures and beliefs, we should use language that reflects those ideals.
Though I agree that people need to be able to express themselves in ways that may not always be favorable, using such language is not the only way to express one’s grievances or opinions. People argue that being PC limits discussion and your true intention, but what he/she is trying to say can be expressed in equally effective terms using other words. That’s the beauty of the English language – there’s typically more than one word for some thought you are trying to express.
In the end, Maher’s op-ed creates an interesting dialogue that allows us to examine the political discourse in this country and amongst ourselves. Maybe if we reevaluate the way we speak, we can find better ways to act on what we say.