Fresh Old Ideas
by Arnold Malone
During the campaign that led to the election of President Donald Trump, he barked a snit about the evil practice of political correctness. He was going to change that. Unfortunately, he did.
I take umbrage against the view that political correctness should be trampled. Words do matter. The very possibility of peace rests on the art of careful expression. This is not just a political requirement but also one that applies to families and communities. How we talk sets the tone as to how others should respond.
When the president refers to his main campaign opponent as, “Crooked Hillary”, he demeans both her and the political process. Politicians ought never treat an alternative view with disrespect. Senator John McCain spent six years as a prisoner of war and was often tortured. Trump degrades his required support by stating that he, “Prefers soldiers that don’t get caught.”
Hot personal attacking words are not limited to the political world. But high offices do set a tone for others and the current use of attack words at a high level gives license to many to blast nasty thoughts at whim. This is troublesome, dangerous and contagious.
Boisterous speech surrounds us. In pubs, restaurants, and on the streets the language of attack and slander exist too frequently. While it is extraordinarily important that the highest offices speak with dignity and decorum, the Hollywood movies are a far cry from the family entertainment of decades ago. Now, inter-galactic wars between the ugly creatures developed by persons that hold the view that violence is a core ingredient for entertainment. Their heroes are those who trample the rights and self-esteem of others. What a shame.
I am aware that research of violent activities portrayed as entertainment has little effect on the broad public. If however, such research were to be conducted on a prison population, in mental institutions and among those who are mentally challenged or depressed, I am certain the results would be in the danger zone. Most people can distinguish between movies as an art and resist the desire to act out what they have observed. Mean talk however, does affect some people.
While working on my Masters Degree in Interpersonal Communication, a number of professors frequently underscored the importance of language as it relates to behavior. The prominent message is, language needs to change before behavior changes. The examples often were framed around a then-issue of the role of females in society. The research informed us just how important it was to speak of the ‘Chair’ as opposed to addressing, Mr. Chairman. To call police “police” as opposed to ‘policeman’ and the Postal Service as opposed to the ‘Postman.’ The research is clear; we talk differently before we behave differently.
This column was written in the afternoon following the horrific deadly shootings in Las Vegas.
It would be a step too far to blame the president of the USA or Hollywood movies as being implicit in this or any other violent crime. But I think it can be asserted that as aggressive language becomes mainstream it propagates the likelihood that a rare few will act out what they observed.
Political correctness is simply, correctness. This is not just a concept limited to politicians; it is a matter for us all. We all need to guard against tough talk and brutal expressions. Sooner or later some deranged person will act upon those words that seem commonplace.
So, it is incumbent on us to demand that leaders everywhere be thoughtful, considered, measured and balanced with their communication and that we citizens follow their good example. A better world is sure to follow.
Arnold Malone served as MP for Alberta’s Battle River and Crowfoot ridings from 1974 through 1993. He retired to Invermere in 2007.