I would never ask you to be politically correct. I’ve gotten some flak from my “When Gay is Okay” and “Why I say partner” articles. People feel that I’m soap-boxing for political correctness, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Before you send me an email, tweet, or facebook message saying “Sorry if I’m not all ‘PC’…”, read this: I’ve never asked you to be politically correct; I’ve asked you to be inclusive.
Yes, there’s a difference.
Before you get all hot and bothered, I want you to acknowledge the idea that there may be a significant difference between being politically correct and being inclusive. If you can’t acknowledge this, there’s no point in reading on. Head outside, de-stress, yell obscenities at strangers, then come back your computer when you’re ready.
Ready? Okay, and… go.
What’s the difference?
Political correctness is externally driven; being inclusive is internally driven. When people do something they consider to be “politically correct” (using certain terms, acknowledging certain groups, etc.) it often conflicts with their values — they are doing it because they have been told they should, even if they don’t believe it themselves. In contrast, when people do things they consider to be “inclusive,” even if these things are the same as the politically correct things, they never conflict with their values because being inclusive is a value.
The Skinny on Political Correctness and Being Inclusive
Being politically correct is behaving in a way that will gain you approval from others. It makes you look good to those in power (voters, friends, parents, teachers, Mark Zuckerberg) so that they will think favorably of you.
Being inclusive is all about being a better person to other people. Being inclusive is a mindset. Once you have it in your mind that you want to make others feel more comfortable around you, you’ll find that you’ll be looking for ways to do so. It’s not about compromising your values; it’s about refining and developing values of empathy and concern for the other. You won’t feel uncomfortable censoring yourself from calling something “retarded;” in fact, you’ll feel uncomfortable when you hear others do so.
*Limitations (yes, there are these)
As with every good rule, there are exceptions. And I want to write about a few of those here before I get more sassy emails. Actually, scratch that–I love sassy emails. Send them my way even after you read this.
You don’t have to be inclusive of everybody. “But Sam, what if someone believes that all people of XYZ group should be exterminated. Should I support that person’s belief?” Depends on who they are talking about. (Kidding.) No, you shouldn’t support that belief. But seriously: it depends on who they are talking about.
There is no right or wrong. “I was saying Native American then someone who is Native American said he prefers the term American Indian but I told him he was wrong. He should know better.” Unfortunately, as with most aspects of life, this is one of those grey-not-black-and-white things. Rely on an internal compass guided by empathy and you’ll be off to a good start, and when in doubt, follow the platinum rule.
Nobody’s perfect: we’re all learning. “I accidentally told my friend that soccer is gay then when I realized I said it I yelled ‘I NEED TO STOP SAYING GAY WHY AM I SO RETARDED’ so whoops. What now?” A professor/mentor of mine once told me it’s inevitable that she’ll act with hypocrisy, so she sets a goal to only do five hypocritical things each day. I believe similarly.