Are you tired of political correctness and wonder why our language should become more sensitive? My clients regularly ask me why this is such a big deal to some. Words do matter, and those who suggest others should just get over it, and stop being so picky are often not a member of the offended group. I am sure we can agree that there are people who are just looking for something to make them angry; there are those who call every questionable comment racist. This article is not for them. Nothing said here would make them change their attitude. I believe most people want to say the right thing, they just don’t know what the “right thing” is.
Certain words do not matter as much to those not in the group as it does to those in it. One person can never know all of the right words to use. So when a reference must be made, ask people who are members of that group which term they prefer. The answers will vary. People have individual preferences, but your interest in asking questions will demonstrate your effort to show respect. Too often we assume, instead of asking, thus causing misunderstandings and conflicts. People are just looking for clues that show you think they matter. For example, saying police officer instead of policeman, or nurse (period) instead of male nurse shows you have given thought to demonstrating inclusivity.
Our politicians regularly trip over their words and have to come back later to say, “ To those I might have offended…” Even saying “I might have offended” is offensive to some. The argument is, if you had to apologize obviously you did offend, but saying ‘might’ indicates you still don’t get it, or are not contrite. Recently an elected official in Virginia had to restate what he meant (Pittsylvania board chairman: Statements not meant to offend ). As I read his recant I realized he still reflected what he actually believes while thinking he was explaining his positive values toward “foreign investment.” He repeatedly said but instead of and. Barber said, “You can embrace them [those from other cultures] but not give up your culture.” Had he said, you can embrace them and not give up your culture, he would have reflected a truer willingness to welcome others to the community. He might have been more believable.
Inclusive language is an aspirational goal. There will always be better ways to express our thoughts without offending or excluding. I invite you to join me in developing new ways to say what we mean and state beliefs and values, while at the same time honoring the differences among us without judging others.
To those of you who are offended by the subject of this article, I sincerely apologize, and thank you for continuing to read this far anyway. By doing so, you are showing your willingness to seek understanding. It is my hope that you recognize this is just one person’s opinion, and I value your opinion too. Let me know what you think by commenting here.