Big Think recently released a video which has struck a chord in many, receiving over 9 million views in 3 days. John Cleese, a well-known comedian, basically says that political correctness has gone too far, especially on America’s college campuses, where he will no longer go to perform.
The very essence of his trade — comedy — is criticism and that frequently means hurt feelings. But protecting everyone from negative emotion all the time is not only impractical (one can’t control the feelings of another), but also improper in a free society. Cleese, having worked with psychiatrist Robin Skynner, says there may even be something more sinister behind the insistence to be always be politically correct (Source).
*As with all of our videos, here we are not looking to necessarily promote the person involved (in this case, John Cleese), simply his message in the following video:
Concern for one’s language is nothing new. As Catholics, the power of words – above all the Word – is something almost too evident. Words not only communicate information, but also bring about effective changes in reality. The words “I do” in the marriage ceremony are just one example of their power and importance. Words are also capable of building relationships. They allow identities to meet and to embrace one another. Prayer, in this sense, is the encounter between God’s Word, our embrace of that word, and our response to that word. All this is to say that if the political correctness movement were truly about assuming responsibility for our words and understanding their importance and impact, we would be in total agreement.
At the heart of this situation is the fact that words can hurt. When we experience pain, it is natural that we try to neutralize it as quickly as possible and do all that we can to avoid it in the future. A serious problem arises, however, when this healthy desire for safety becomes the principal motor of our lives. Why? Because while safety is good and to be sought after, we weren’t made for safety alone, rather for relationship and communion. Relationship means accepting the freedom of the other person along with the risks that that bears.
So here’s the kicker: words, in order to be authentic and personal, must be free. If you want to kill a relationship, start reading scripts to your friends or loved ones. If you want to know what loneliness is, wall yourself within the safe boundaries of auto-correct messaging and photoshopped image sharing. The moment that we allow our fear of being hurt to outweigh our desire for communion is the moment we have given up our humanity. The idea that we can find authentic acceptance by imposing legal and linguistic norms on others is simply illusory.
People who are afraid rarely laugh. Humor, on the other hand, is often a good sign of a courageous approach to pain and difficulty. It allows us to confront challenging or awkward situations with the confidence that the good outweighs the bad.
This applies especially to those who are able to laugh at themselves. These are the kind of people that you want to be around. You feel free and spontaneous. They seem to recognize that they are not the center of the universe and don’t allow their own fears or feelings to monopolize situations and suffocate those around them.
Finally, in addition to encouraging respectful language, I believe we must also promote the acceptance of others even when they offend us. From a Christian standpoint, moments of offense and insult are moments for patient charity. We are called to correct when necessary, but also to bear such offenses with patience and grace because we are more interested in authentic friendship that may require patience and pain (even with those who insult us) than creating a system that imposes silences while simultaneously dehumanizing the communication process on the whole.
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