The term “Political correctness” makes me think of politics. But it’s not really about politics, is it? It’s about humanity and love and inclusion. Allowing everyone to feel comfortable. To allow everyone to belong; truly belong in their own world and communities.
In her book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown calls “political correctness” something else; a phrase that I love and want to share with you. She calls it “Inclusive Language”.
For example, a word that I use all the time is “partner“. Partner is inclusive, boyfriend or girlfriend is not. Girlfriend or boyfriend, when talking to someone about their romantic life or sex life, assumes gender and sexual preference, therefore, excluding people.
Don’t get me wrong, being PC, or we should now say Inclusive, isn’t always easy. We won’t always get it right. But if we’re willing to learn, listen and love (the 3 Ls!), you can’t go wrong.
His/Hers -> Theirs
Ladies and Gentleman -> Distinguished guests
Men and women -> Everyone
Guys -> Folks
To name a few to do with gender norms.
The thing is, our world and our language are very different now than it was twenty, thirty, forty years ago. By trying to “stay the same” or saying things like “it wasn’t this complicated back in my day” is just rude and offensive. That’s a Fixed Mindset, not a Growth Mindset. That’s bad for you and for our society.
“Back in the day” things were not sunshine and rainbows. People were (through no real fault of their own, we’ve all been conditioned) overtly racist and homophobic and exclusionary back then. Why would we romanticise and reminisce about a time of oppression, hatred and violence that’s worse than today?
But yes, it is more complicated, but that isn’t a bad thing. Not when it comes to ensuring everyone is included, valued, and respected equally. Not when simply using a different word could change how you make someone feel about themselves.
How much does it hurt you, really, to use a different word?
Words hold power and meaning, we shouldn’t use them without intention.
Say you got something wrong; breathe and listen to how the person feels. Respect their needs and views. No one is asking you to marry them! Just be a damn good human being. Treat your fellow person with love and respect – until they give you a genuine reason not to.
Imagine if your needs weren’t met. Imagine if, on a daily basis, basic respect wasn’t freely given to you. People told you who you should be. What you should do. Who you should love. People told you that you don’t fit in, you’re not the “norm“.
How awful would that be?
It drains your energy and severely affects your mental health. So, inclusive language goes a long way. It can even save lives.
Some tips for inclusive language:
- Be mindful of what you’re saying and the meaning and connotations behind it
- Speak kindly and care about how you make others feel
- Ask if you’re not sure! Hopefully, if you ask right, the person won’t be offended
- Don’t get defensive if corrected. I hope anyone who reads my content is someone willing to grow; we grow through listening to other perspectives and learning as we go through life
- Respect other people’s wants and needs; you do not get to tell them what they should be or how they should feel
- If there’s a better word, use it! (it takes practise if you’re not used to it, and that’s okay)
- Topics to be wary of, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, and general terms and phrases for identity
I have struggled with belonging for a long time. I still am. But as Brene Brown says in her book, we must belong to ourselves, first. Being civil, kind, and giving to our collective humanity is the way we help others feel as though they belong with us.
Don’t be part of the problem.
Hold out your hands with your words and say, “you belong here.”
This is a matter of community and unity. Of humanity and togetherness. Pushing for an inclusive society where everyone feels welcome and safe. Breaking and changing the perceived “norms” which only truly serve a small number of people in the Dominant Culture.
I hope you all know, you’re welcome here with me, as you are.
So, I can’t really sit here and list all the right words or phrases, and the wrong ones to avoid. One, I’d be here forever. Two, things may change. Three, I don’t have all the answers! But I am willing to learn, and I hope you are, too.
How to learn more inclusive language:
- Read books on diversity, inclusion, race, gender, sexuality etc.
- Speak to people! Get to know them and you’ll naturally understand what’s okay and what’s not.
- Learn from your mistakes.
- Watch TV shows and films that are inclusive and a good representation of marginalised groups of people.
- Ask questions, do your research.
(Please, tell me if at any point I’ve made you feel uncomfortable with my language. I know I say “guys” a lot, as I’m kind of American in my language at times, saying Dude, too! For me, those words are for everyone, not male-centric. If there’s something I don’t yet know, I’m happy to learn and grow. Thank you.)