It seems that, in the name of ‘political correctness’, it’s not socially acceptable for us to say all sorts of things because some people may feel upset about what we say. I’m all in favour of tact, diplomacy and sensitivity, but I am not in favour of being tactful, diplomatic and sensitive to the point of being dishonest.
I think it is possible to speak the truth in a spirt of gentleness, but even then some people take offence at it and embark on a ‘holier than thou’ telling-off of the truth-teller, accusing the truth-teller of being ‘holier than thou’ and insensitive in such a ‘holier than thou’ and insensitive manner that it begins to sound like the pot calling the kettle black!
I think we are all familiar with young children who embarrass us by asking, for instance, ‘Why is that lady so fat?’ (And we say ‘Shh!’) It’s not really polite to say such things about strangers in public places, and it is probably not ‘politically correct.’ On the other hand, in a different context, a lady’s fatness may be her most distinguishing physical feature, and it could be helpful, for instance in a witness statement to the police, to say that the alleged offender was fat (or overweight, or obese….or…?) In that situation I think that maybe stating an objective fact would be appropriate, and not ‘insensitive’.
Over the years I have tied myself up in knots trying to be ‘politically correct’. I was given a friendly ticking-off once by a colleague when I described a pupil as ‘half-caste’ – my colleague told me that the correct term was ‘of mixed race’. I was thankful that he corrected me and I now use the term ‘of mixed race’. In using the term ‘half-caste’, I think I was being ill-informed rather than politically incorrect, and I certainly had no intention of giving offence.
Another difficulty I had when I was teaching was with children with red hair. I love red hair and I could not imagine why anyone might not love it, but some children with red hair had been teased about it so much by other pupils that they objected to any reference to their hair-colour. I taught Modern Foreign Languages, and describing physical appearance was one of the topics on the syllabus. One of my German friends had reddish-blond hair and she described her hair in German as ‘rotgoldene Haare’. I thought that this was a lovely description, and so did most of my red-headed pupils 🙂
I just have a plea to champions of ‘political correctness’ : please forgive those of us who say things which you think of as ‘politically incorrect’ – sometimes we err because we are ill-informed, sometimes we are stating an objective fact as tactfully as we can, and sometimes we are expressing our own beliefs, which, though they may be different from yours, are not a personal rejection of you!