Prejudice and Political Correctness

Prejudice is something that probably all of us exhibit to some degree. It is not a particularly pleasant human characteristic; even more so when those who are the subject of it have little or no control over the circumstances which form the basis of the prejudice. I, for example, feel quite happy to make my point about those who have chosen to believe in supernatural beings, when there is no proof whatsoever in their existence. This is especially so when they use their religious beliefs as the basis for their prejudices and/or trying to impose these beliefs onto others; the right to die a dignified death being a notable example. I will not, however, subject others to similar treatment when their circumstances are beyond their control. Example of these are peoples’ skin colour, gender, sexual orientation and whether they have a disability. So, what is my point in this diatribe?

Well, I look at the world and see what could be. Then I look at the world as it is and the difference is marked. Those who are wealthy seem to live by a different set of rules to the rest of us. Indeed, it seems that the wealthier you are, the fewer rules there are. Moreover, the justification for their wealth or earning power is that they possess ability, skills or abilities beyond that of the rest of us. That is often self serving nonsense. After all, if they were so good, would our economy be in such bad shape?  You can fill in your own answer here.  So, if we are to change things, where do we start?

Well as a writer (yes, I can say that now) and a public speaker, language is important to me as is how I refer to others. What others, for example, call “political correctness”, I say is referring to people how you would like to be referred to if you were in their circumstances. Therefore, “the disabled, “the unemployed”, “the poor”, “the old” is not, in my view, the best way to describe people. Firstly, because we are all, essentially, individuals and, secondly, because the appellation allows for categorisation which is often inaccurate. It also reinforces stereotypes and prejudice. So, in my usual pedantic way, the individuals concerned are “people with a disability”, “people who are unemployed” and so on. You will note that the “people” bit comes first as it is the thing which links us all together instead of dividing us, which is what the first set of descriptions does.

Now for the important part, especially for those who rail against “political correctness” and what they seem to see as its oppressive and stifling nature. In contrast, obviously, to being able to speak your mind in whatever way you choose. A recent study by researchers at Cornell University shows that, in creativity exercises involving mixed gender groups, people instructed to be politically correct generated a greater quantity of novel ideas than those instructed to be merely polite or given no instructions at all. It seems that, once clear guidance was provided on, for example, how members of the opposite gender ought to relate to one another, they felt more free to exchange ideas. So, political correctness allows us to treat each other with more thought and, in the process, get better results. Who would have thought it?

If you want further information, please read a copy of yesterday’s “Guardian” page 49 for a fuller report.

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