I guess this column is more questions than answers.
When you hear someone omit or change their remarks because it might be offensive to other faiths or cultures, do you dismiss that speaker as “just being politically correct?”
I hear that label tossed around alot. I hear it said when someone wishes an audience “Happy Holidays” or when a Christian speaker omits the words “in Jesus’ name” from a public prayer.
Inevitably, someone will moan, “He’s just being politically correct.” The notion contained in the accusation is that the speaker is being “sensitive” out of his need to gain the favor of a particular group.
Before PC, we called that brown-nosing.
But is it really brown-nosing?
My first PC lesson came a few years back as I played with plastic army men on the living floor with my new best friend Bobby McGhee. OK, maybe this was more like 40 years back.
In a hysterical — but less than historical — version of a WWII battle, my U.S. army men ambushed Bobby’s German soldiers from atop a coffee table. In a move more like Geronimo than Army Rangers, my men leapt upon Bobby’s men as they trailed unsuspectingly from under the sofa.”Take that you dirty Germans!” I yelled.
Suddenly, Bobby’s mom came out of the kitchen with dish towel in hand, voicing an inquiry as to our activity.
“My men just annihilated all the Germans!” I proudly declared. OK, I couldn’t say annihilated, but I said something like that, because Mrs. McGhee patiently explained that the United States didn’t fight the Germans in WWII.
“We fought Hitler’s Nazis,” she declared with a proud German accent. “The Germans are good people.”
I accepted her polite correction and ordered a new wording in the battle plan: “Slaughter the Nazis!”
Was I just being politically correct? Or was I practicing good manners in consideration of my host?
I say it was manners. Manners involve respect for the people and environment that surrounds you. Political Correctness, in the best intent of the phrase, ought to mean the same thing.
However, it seems that when people don’t want to accommodate beliefs that differ from their own, they erupt with sarcasm saying, “Oh, excuse me for not being politically correct.”
Recently, I was on a chaplain committee comprised of different Christian denominations. When I mentioned that my sister-in-law was seriously ill, one of the chaplains offered a public prayer for her. The chaplain announced that her prayer wouldn’t be “politically correct.”
Uh oh, I thought. Was this her preamble for rudeness? Was this her declaration that she would completely ignore the conservative chaplain who might not take kindly to praying with other denominations? Was she dismissing the liberal chaplain who would be troubled at the mention of God as masculine?
Yup. She was.
From my tradition, it was a wonderful prayer. I grew tearful thinking about the possibility of God healing my sister-in-law. It was a lovely prayer, but it would have been more meaningful to me if it had been voiced in the intimate surroundings of my own faith community. (See www.impactcommunity.com).
But I was conflicted. I was a bit exasperated by a colleague who would relegate the well-thought out beliefs of my other chaplains to something as menial as “political correctness.” While their beliefs weren’t mine, I respect them too much to impose my beliefs on them.
Am I just being politically correct?
I don’t think so. Not today and not 40 years ago in the McGee’s living room. In my book, it’s always been called manners.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Visit www.thechaplain.net.