One of the challenging parts of owning cats is the annoying task of emptying the litter box. Litter boxes can be deceiving as it’s usually not obvious they’re full. Cats have an interesting instinct to bury their waste and smooth it out. The only time you’ll know it’s too full is when they scratch into it, kicking little bits of cat crap all over your porch.
In a way, political correctness is a lot like a litter box. Individuals feel very strongly about a topic and yet when trying to express it outwardly, stumble awkwardly and excuse it by saying something to the effect of “let me say this in the most politically-correct way I know how.”
Political correctness has done more to squelch open, honest dialog than anything else. It prevents good conversations and understanding to ever happen. We talk, yet nothing is ever really said. When the conversation’s over, we run back into our corners and let our anger smolder.
Why does this happen? Here’s my theory.
All of us are born as a clean slate and yet as we grow, we’re bombarded with all sorts of environmental stimuli. This, combined with our upbringing tends to establish values, or operating norms, that we’re comfortable with. We tend to surround ourselves by others who share these values and then look at those outside our circle as, well, outsiders.
This is normal. Here’s where it gets ugly.
Without the willingness or ability to mix with others who are different than us, we start to look at them and their differing viewpoints as adversarial or threatening. If we do try to converse, we carefully choose our words, not willing to share anything beyond normal conversation. If we want to go deeper, we then begin to wrestle with saying things politically correct.
While this is unfortunate, here’s what leads to the train wreck.
We believe everything is a zero-sum game. If you don’t support same-sex marriage, you’re a homophobe. If you’re pro-choice, you don’t value human life. If you’re pro-life, you hate women. If you don’t denounce the Confederate flag, you’re a racist. If an American Muslim doesn’t go on record saying that ISIS and terrorist attacks don’t represent peaceful Islam, then they must support terrorism. (Although it’s interesting to note that I’ve never seen a bible-thumping Baptist come out vehemently opposed to the insensitive funeral-protesting practices of the Westboro Baptist Church as “not representing true Baptist-ism).
This either/or mentality either causes some individuals to act boldly. In the weeks following the flap (bad pun) over the Confederate battle flag, I’ve seen numerous folks here in Middle Tennessee driving around with full size Confederate flags mounted on their pickup trucks in defiant protest. Some folks take their strong protests to their social media. It’s interesting to see some of my friend’s Facebook posts being very conservative. Some contain memes of liberal and democratic celebrities and politicians portrayed negatively. Contrast that with my Dad’s family’s liberal leanings and their memes similarly done to conservative celebrities and politicians.
Most of the time though, it simply shuts down communication altogether. Sometimes that’s the end of it
But sometimes it doesn’t. The next move is to look for a surrogate to run our viewpoint to the forefront.
We find an external person or entity who believes the way we do and thrown our support behind them. One reason perhaps for Donald Trump’s surge to the top of the Republican poles is his penchant for speaking his mind. When Trump speaks his mind, and his mind matches a group of unhappy voters, you have some unity. Then, this unity somehow legitimizes the viewpoint.
It happens everywhere. Someone once told me to watch Bill O’Reilly because he “tells it like it is.” Of course “like it is” really means “like I believe.” Individuals flock to quasi-news networks like FOX and MSNBC because somehow news reporters represent legitimacy. In the end though, does Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, or Keith Olbermann really represent TRUTH, or just a doctrine, viewpoint, or perspective that lines up with what you believe?
Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve seen more divisiveness in this country than I can ever remember from before. It shuts down communication, drives wedges between friends and families, and prevents any sort of meaningful dialog from happening.
Yet it seems normal. Kind of like that litter box on the front porch. From a distance, it looks as though all is well. Get closer though and you quickly tell that it’s not. The only way to fix it is to get a plastic bag and slotted shovel and scoop out all the cat crap and clumped-up pee. Only then will the box be truly clean.
So this week, take some time and examine your own litter box. What are you holding to and holding onto? What attempts have you made to open your eyes, ears, and heart to others? Until all of us take the time to do this, nothing will ever change in this country.