I posted a conversation yesterday on Facebook between myself and a gentleman complaining about political correctness in which I attempt to explain to him the benefit of not being an oozing dickblister to those around you – while also attempting to glean what about the idea of political correctness so upset him.
I hear the same things over and over again. That political correctness has shut down critical discussions in our country by encouraging people to use respectful language. That’s my wording, their meaning. I point this out because most of the people I’ve discussed this with become furious when I refer to political correctness as ‘respectful language’. But that’s a hill I will die on. Political correctness is, at its basest, treating people with respect.
Yet when I attempt to engage these people on what specifically about being “forced” to be kind to people upsets them so much, I find exceedingly few of them willing to speak to me. Even when I approach the topic from a position which appears to favour their argument, rather than attack it. Very few of these people seem willing – or able, to explain to me why they reel with rage when asked not to refer to their neighbour as a ‘tranny’.
For the moment I’m left with what little psychological wisps I can glean from their speech and behaviour patterns – and here’s, more or less, what I’ve come up with.
At its basest – the people who are furious at the idea of politically correct speech appear to be reacting to a feeling of confrontation and frustration. They are comfortable with themselves and then someone tells them that they are being the wrong kind of human and must change because the world has.
And humans ABHOR change.
Well…that’s putting it really simplistically. It’s not that humans abhor change – it’s that we abhor being told that we must change.
Generally we feel that the way that we do things – varied wildly though they may be – is the right way to do things. It’s been working fine for us. It’s been working great for us. And the longer we’ve been doing something, the more right it feels. It becomes interwoven into how we see ourselves.
Then someone comes along and tells you that you’re humaning wrong. You instantly – on a subconscious level – feel that your entire being has been attacked. It isn’t so much that change is about learning something new – it’s about letting something old die. And while that is necessary for progress to occur, our natural visceral response can be difficult to get past.
Am I excusing transphobes? No. Transphobes are deplorable, their behaviour is unacceptable, and you should call them out and shut them down -hard-.
You’ll get no pity from me on the difficulty of change. I am of the “yeah well buck up and get ready for this ride because the train done left the station, my dude” school of thought. But you will get some understanding. I do think that understanding the root causes of these knee-jerk reactions can aid us in reaching these people if only we can awaken their minds to the value of growth – and teach them HOW to change. Because knowing how to change and learning how to change gracefully can be very difficult and painful – and like anything else, it’s a -skill- that needs to be learned. Understanding that the reaction is to confrontation and change and how the minds of humans work can help a little. It can show you paths to weave around their mental blocks, or ways to put it to people that make more sense to them. And unpalatable as it may be to try and reach out to transphobes, doing so is part of how we reduce the numbers of transphobes in subsequent generations.
Look, I’m not a psychologist and my knowledge of psychology is really only limited to my own therapy and my fascination with the subject. I read a lot of articles and studies – but I’m not a trained therapist of any kind, so maybe I’m completely off base – but this is what I’ve put together from my interactions with people.
I think that this reaction to change and confrontation is why we can tend to see what, on the face of it, looks like ridiculous hypocrisy from the very people reeling in the face of political correctness, like this restaurant owner who in one breath said that politically correct speech had a stranglehold on our country – and in the next, said that name-calling was dividing rather than uniting us. In one breath he complains about politically correct speech. In the next he calls for it.
This part, in particular, just makes my brain start flopping around the room in an excited panic. This is when I start to wonder how many of the people complaining about politically correct speech actually understand what it means – and if so – how can they not see the paradoxical nature of their own sentiments as clearly as I do?
I think it’s two-fold. I think that many of them actually don’t understand what political correctness is – but I think that a LOT of them literally CANNOT see it because of the mechanism of that reaction to change. Remember, they perceive the way they do things as the right way to do them. So when you call them a transphobe, it’s still an attack on THEM. It’s the juxtaposition between recognising the importance of offence against you while disregarding the offence against another because of your personal reaction to both. YOU don’t see yourself as a transphobe so you musn’t be. YOU think Caitlyn Jenner is a man – so she must be. On both counts you feel comfortable and secure and the problem isn’t you, it’s the people telling you that you’re wrong. I think, to a certain extent, these people are blind to their own shittiness.
The gentleman I was speaking to yesterday – while he may have had a different meaning – explained this reaction pretty beautifully himself when he said, “Other people don’t matter.”
We are extraordinarily bad at seeing the world through the eyes of anyone else or hearing their words through the filters of their own experiences. Humans see the world through their own black box – a translator that makes the world make sense to them. Some of our black boxes are calibrated with each other. Some aren’t. The ones that aren’t have issues communicating and don’t seem to speak the same language or have the same meanings.
It’s when we learn how to see the world through another’s black box that change becomes easier – but that’s a skill that requires teaching, and often something that people don’t learn until they’re well into adulthood. In a perfect world we’d teach children how to empathise with their peers alongside our fairly recent and highly beneficial mindfulness exercises – and rather than raising generations resistant to change, we’d stand a chance at raising generations eager to embrace each others’ thoughts and ideas.
Learning how to change is worthwhile – and the more you are willing to change the easier it becomes. We should be teaching children to be flexible from a young age – rather than enforcing the learned rigidity so many passively develop.
I’ll continue to ask questions to people I’m tempted to slam my laptop on because I think that understanding where they’re coming from is instrumental in teaching them how to change, frustrating though it may be. If it seems like an exercise in insanity and self-abuse constantly arguing with the most deplorable people you can imagine, remember that I do this so that you don’t have to. I engage the transphobes, the misogynists, the racists – and I ask questions, learn, and offer up examples of behaviour – to help us -all- understand in the gentlest, least stressful way possible for all involved. Even if in the meantime I have to take the brunt of abuse from a lot of angry woman-hating cis hetero white men. Because I know I can take it – and for me, it’s a small price to pay for even a chance at a step-up in getting through to people.