Why You Can Never Be
100% Politically Correct

by Melissa Karnaze

When you were young, you thought, said and did things that weren’t politically correct.

But someone corrected you, and you learned.

Here you are now.

Political correctness is something you care about, or you’re at least well versed in what it means. Because it’s part of the society you live in.

The problem is, that politically incorrect little boy or girl you once were — never grew up.

You might have gotten older and more sophisticated, but he or she is still with you.

You inner child, ego, subconscious, emotional self — however you want to personify it — won’t “go away.”

Because you are multidimensional as long as you’re breathing.

Feelings don’t lie

We get really good at lying to ourselves about our feelings.

You may try to stuff them, demonize them, or defuse them. But none of that really makes your emotions “go away.”

It’s called emotional baggage because you take it with you through life. (Unless you work with your emotions, and turn the baggage into a tool kit.)

Emotions aren’t always politically correct

Emotions are contingent upon the thought processes that underpin them. Oftentimes what you (subconsciously) think — is politically incorrect. Because it’s self-centered, myopic, angry, or a social heuristic (like a stereotype). And you’ve been especially conditioned in certain (dysfunctional) ways as a defense against pain and disappointment.

If you pay attention to what you’re really feeling (which means, what you’re really thinking), you’ll notice that it’s not always nice.

Let’s look at an illustration.

How a boy’s autism affects his older sister

At 8:29 in Part I of Robert Macneil’s “Autism Now” series on PBS Newshour, Macneil describes how his grandson Nick’s autism affects his family.

He proceeds to interview Nick’s older sister, 10-year-old Neely (Macneil’s granddaughter). Pay attention to the bold phrases:

ROBERT MACNEIL: When you think about the future with Nick, what do you feel about that?

NEELY: Well, I hope that I — I hope that he doesn’t have to stay with me, kind of, and that I hope that he gets healed soon. Sometimes when other people, they — their lives seem perfect, and when yours — when yours — you have to do something that you don’t like, you don’t usually want to do it, and though your autistic sibling does, and it seems unfair. And it seems like they get what they want and you don’t.

Notice how Neely says that she doesn’t want to have to take care of her brother for the rest of her life? And that it’s unfair that her life revolves around his needs?

That’s not at all politically correct. But it’s how she feels.

And just because she feels that way doesn’t mean that she always will feel that way. Or that she has to act on those feelings in a destructive way. Or that she will always resent her brother. Or that she is a bad or ungrateful child.

By admitting to herself how she truly feels, she’ll be much more likely to remember them and heal them, down the road when she’s old enough to fully process them and choose her responsibilities.

If Neely were to suppress her true feelings, the wound would be buried, and she’d have much less chance to heal in adulthood.

Staying true to your feelings

In the next part of the interview, Neely’s grandfather tries to talk her out of her feelings by using a cognitive reframe:

ROBERT MACNEIL: Well, one of the things about life is that we all learn we have to do things we don’t want to do, whether there’s autism around or not.

It’s an indirect way of saying: “Are you sure you want to feel this way? It might be unreasonable.”

But having the honesty of a child, Nelly doesn’t let him convince her not to feel the way she feels:

NEELY: Yes, but it seems like it happens too much. I mean, there’s going to be a few times when that happens, but it seems with an autistic brother or sister, it always happens.

It’s as if she’s saying:

I’m not talking about some general notion about life, and how it’s not always roses. I’m talking about my life — and how it revolves around someone else’s needs.

What Nelly essentially does is healthily deflect a deflection made by Macneil — which he made as an attempt to minimize her negative emotional response to her brother’s autism.

This exchange is much more powerful to watch (you can fast-forward to 8:29) because you can sense how conflicted Neely is to show her true feelings. And how she has the courage to be honest nonetheless.

Neely is very lucky that her grandfather gives her a safe space to talk about her feelings. I cannot emphasize this enough.

You can’t be 100% politically correct, but you can create your safe space

When you were Neely’s age, you felt like she did about many things. You felt that things weren’t fair. That it could have been so much better. It’s only natural. No child lives in a perfect world.

As you grew up, you learned how to turn off, ignore, or disidentify with those feelings. And you probably had lots of pressure from older people to banish your emotions in order to be a “good person.”

Today there are probably still certain things that don’t feel fair to you. And no matter how hard to you try to shed your emotional baggage, it still walks around with you.

You can’t really “fix” that. But you can deal with it.

How?

By creating a safe space to embrace your true feelings.

That place may be:

The actual space doesn’t matter. But it has to feel safe. You have to feel encouraged to express yourself, honestly.

Which means you can’t be worrying about being:

    • “Offensive”
    • “Wrong”
    • “Rude”
    • “Too sensitive”
    • Argued with
    • Deflected
    • Misunderstood
    • Disregarded
    • Ignored
    • Attacked
    • Judged

So unless you have working agreements with someone who can respect you — without violating you in the any of the above ways (or at least without doing so and then failing to make amends after) — you’re probably best building your safe space in solitude.

Not all of us were so lucky to be accepted for how we truly felt as children.

But all we can do now is make sure that we are heard today. And really, we only need to be heard — by ourselves.

And by being honest with yourself, you have a much better chance of empathizing with others — which can make you more politically correct.

But don’t forget

No one can be politically correct 100% of the time.

Political “correctness” is a human construct, subject to change.

It doesn’t exist in an objective sense that we can verify with 100% accuracy. And we constantly re-negotiate what it means.

You’re the only authority who matters in your life.

Start living that way.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack Bennett | 32000 Days May 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Good points. Feelings are absolutely real to the one who feels, whether or not those feelings are “nice” or “convenient” or “fair”.

Of course, some people inevitably attempt to manipulate the feelings of others with shaping and shaming – “you don’t *really* feel that way, do you?”, “it’s not nice to feel like that”, and so forth. (Often but not exclusively, this is adults manipulating children.)

I don’t recall the quote or the source of it (useful, huh?), but I did recently read a quote which basically boiled down to: “If our innermost thoughts were revealed to everyone, we would all be put in jail”.

Which I think is true, and is one of the reasons why I don’t identify with my thoughts or take them all that seriously any more. The thoughts are not “me” or something I take personally – they are just something that happens, like weather. I don’t take a snowflake personally either.

Melissa Karnaze May 8, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Yes, it’s important to acknowledge thoughts, even if they aren’t “correct,” without making them wrong, invalid, or minimizing them. Sure, it means we have to admit that our thoughts and feelings are potentially grossly offensive or even against the law, as you suggest, but it’s better to admit this than to not be aware of it and have an increased chance of subconsciously acting on them.

Kristoffer Martin July 9, 2011 at 7:14 am

It should be noted that your use of “politically correct” is incorrect. Political Correctitude is an advent of political action. It’s defined as “Avoidance of expressions or actions that can be perceived to exclude or marginalize or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against”. A person can be highly offensive and still be politically correct. Your example of Neely isn’t this at all. She’s not saying anything that is actually discriminatory against her brother with autism. She is merely stating that she would like her own life. What is sad here is that you’ve taken the words of a child, presumed them to be a state of contrivance where political correctness is necessary or applicable and then translated her words into something that is politically incorrect, where in the original statement wasn’t at all.

Melissa Karnaze July 9, 2011 at 9:38 am

Yes, I’m taking the words of a child because I think it’s important. We learn about political correctness from an early age.

You may not think that “I hope that he doesn’t have to stay with me” excludes/marginalizes/insults people who are socially disadvantaged by autism spectrum disorders, but I don’t think we’d regard this statement as politically correct coming from a politician speaking of their own sibling.

Of course, you’re entitled to disagree.

Kristoffer Martin July 10, 2011 at 6:29 am

I think you’ve completely missed the point, political correctness has nothing to do with moral or offensive tendencies. You’re equating one to the other. In example; if I were a politician and I used the word Black instead of African American I’d be Politically Incorrect, regardless of the intent or inflection given.

Expressing an emotion has intent, as provided in the quote of the child, but its political correctness isn’t measurable or discernible. This is because political correctness is relative to the political state not social state of a community. Go back 150 years and it was politically correct (regardless of if it was morally or ethically correct) to cal an African American an Nigger.

To presume a child of the age of your subject is even truly capable of understanding the political conformities of our current society is a stretch. Further, to assert that her statement is an example of a statement that is politically incorrect is false. Again and again you’re arguing a point not based on facts and presenting an opinion without actual support.

Let us suppose a politician did say what the girl said about her little brother. Would it be politically incorrect or politically correct? Depends on the function and use of the statement and the political sphere it is stated in.

in other words, what is defined as Politically Correct is relative and not an absolute. Something politically incorrect one year may become politically correct the next depending on dozens of factors related to the perceptions of concepts.

Another example, ten years ago the politically correct term for green house emission build up and its consequences was Global Warming, today it’s Global Climate Change. There are even layers of political correctitude within certain political groups. What the US conservatives deem politically correct isn’t what the Democrats deem politically correct.

So, I’m sorry but your argument isn’t sound and is based on a lacking knowledge of the term and it’s use…which ironically is the foundation of political correctness in the first place~ that is the redefining of words to fit a certain socio-political sphere or the careful wording of a statement regardless of intent to not directly impose a form of discrimination against those the statement might otherwise suggest prejudice or offense against.

Did the little girl mean or intend to offend, no, was her statement politically driven, no. Can we even actually define what she said, even in the hypothetical, a statement that isn’t politically correct? Only as a stretch.

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