Words are important. The words we choose have an impact on others and the culture we are creating.
Words aren't everything. They are the external layer, the crust on the creme brûlée. Or the shell on a rotten egg.
I am nervous about political correctness if it's at the expense of driving all the feelings underground and covering it up with new wallpaper or a toasty crusty creme brulee top.
Three examples of how PC language is not everything:
1) People who are activists that come to see me and feel like they shouldn't "feel" something because they are "privileged" and therefore don't have a right to feel pain. "My childhood was fine and I'm white I shouldn't feel this much agony/depression/fear/hurt.
This is dangerous, in that this "logical and rational" repression of emotion causes them to go underground and will one day, most likely, make us unwell. I think it also makes it more challenging for us to do the work we are trying to do without "burning out" or feeling hopeless. Everyone has feelings, and it's important to acknowledge them. What we make them mean is the bigger question. (see the blog on the dirty plate metaphor.)
In this example I'm not talking about feeling hurt because our privilege is challenged. Getting angry and attacking, or telling someone we're "hurt" because we were called out, isn't what I'm getting at. In this example of getting called out we can feel what we feel, giving ourselves permission, but not make the person who called us out in anyway responsible for care taking or being on the receiving end of those emotions. You can get angry at your parents for teaching you judgement. You can be sad afterwards because you felt embarrassed. You can be angry at a culture that set this up, but don't throw it back at the person that called you out. Not their responsibility.
2) Myself, trying to figure out how to use the "they/them" pronoun.
I mess up, it feels awkward. In this awkwardness I have a chance to examine all kinds of biases and assumptions regarding gender. I have the chance to humble myself and ask for help in understanding and figuring it out. Every time I mess up and feel embarrassed, I have a moment to reflect on what I've been taught and the impact it has on others.
If I simply blasted through this unease, focused on the language, but not the discomfort/fear/bias underneath it, I would be using proper language but be left with a whole bunch of unconsidered emotions that would be felt and understood through the tone of my voice and the subtle body language surrounding it. In doing this I would lose connection with myself and others.
3) We can use it to silence people
If we have experienced repression and oppression in a constant and systemic way, it makes sense that we may not at some point become incredibly angry, and not necessarily be privy to or able to access or even care about the "proper" language to get our point across.
The expectation of political correctness, or a dialogue devoid of emotions, is a way of silencing those that have experiences different than the ones that we have had.
This is not making excuses for hateful speech or bullying, from anyone, but it is saying that if we try to use PC language to avoid having to learn how to be with or navigate emotions with others, and the emotions they bring up in us, we're only addressing a very small part of the problem.
Sally Kohn, a talking head lesbian on FOX news, talks about emotional correctness vs. political correctness. Her two requirements for people calling her a dyke go as follows:
1. Spell it correctly - Dyke not Dike.
2. How are you using the word? Are you being friendly? Are you naive? Are you respectful and compassionate?
She promotes emotional correctness over political correctness, as a way of interacting that focuses on connection over language.
Be awkward... figure it out... feel the feelings... don't simply take the shortcut of using the correct language.