Taking Care

2 08 2009

Political Correctness is a funny thing. It tends to produce the most extraordinary, and often unthinking, responses from the most unlikely of people. I don’t suppose anybody has taken the time to compose a truly thorough definition of the concept, but it seems that everybody has their own understanding of it.


Something I have never been able to fully understand is why there is so much opposition to the idea of political correctness. No doubt it has something to do with a general hostility to being told how to behave, and in particular how to speak, by bureaucrats – not a group of people known to be adored by the British public.


More often than not, a term or phrase is reported to have been banned by some council or other. Their actions, and the sentiments behind them, are damned as ‘political correctness gone mad.’ Our rights to freedom of speech have been curtailed for fear that we might ‘offend somebody.’ Apparently this thinking is risible.


Well, here you may be able to appreciate my confusion. If a bin man is offended by my use of that term to address him, then I am happy to give him the small courtesy of using his preferred title. I am not too proud, it does not cost me anything, in fact it barely impacts on my life at all.


Of course, I may not fully understand quite why the said ‘community refuse co-ordinator’ took offence, but ultimately that is none of my business. A request has been made, and I am only too happy to oblige.


Now the truth is that the bin man probably never did complain or, if we’re honest, care very much about his title. More likely his employers, the local council, issued their ordinance out of fear – that they might cause offence.


Still, though, the situation lacks any element of common sense, and thus I cannot help feeling we are at the truth. What is far more plausible is that the council most intimately involved in the whole saga in fact never issued any rules, nor even guidelines, on the titles given to those human beings who are gainfully and productively employed in the process of removing our domestic waste from our homes and streets.


If we delve far enough down, we will most likely find that the original, scandalous decision to change the relevant title was, in fact, imagined. With some satisfying irony it was imagined by the very people now complaining about ‘political correctness gone mad’ – it turns out they just wanted something to moan about.


Well, if we suspend reality for a moment, and pretend that the fashion for political correctness is actually genuine, I still struggle to see how it is a negative thing. A society that is takes care not to offend each other, is surely a very fine society in which to live?


Unfortunately we aren’t quite there yet, and we are surrounded on a daily basis by an astonishing amount of prejudice, bigotry, snobbery and ignorance – all revealed by the language we use.


On Friday of last week, as yet another part of my induction into the world of education, I was invited to attend a lecture on issues surrounding inclusion. For those not familiar with the language of the education sector, ‘inclusion’ is a sort of unknown, a bit like ‘x’ in mathematics. It is a word that can be used to cover whatever it is that you would like to talk about.


In this instance, ‘inclusion’ meant racism, and how we might tackle it. As you can imagine, the lecture prompted some heated debate, about exactly what counted as racism, and what was mere ‘banter’. I suspect the lecturer was well advised in her position, which was largely to let it run under its own steam.


Having attended such a lecture, you might think that we would have been highly sensitive to racial issues in the following few days. Alas, we were not.


On Sunday evening I found myself as one of many guests at a communal take-away being hosted just down the road. The take-away had been ordered, the student discount secured and we were into that mind-numbing stage of waiting for the food to arrive, stomachs gurgling to mark the passing of every minute.


Well, as the promised time of arrival neared a fellow guest and I noted that we were short of cutlery. Being the community-citizens that we are, we both volunteered to go on a cutlery-run. As we left our hosts’s premises, we found a young man waiting patiently at the door.


The fellow in question was about 5’10”, of a medium build and with dark hair. He was dressed in black, with a red and white cap. In his hands hung two medium-sized sports bags, looking as if they were bulging at the seams.


Quickly, perhaps rashly, my friend assessed the situation. With courteous thanks, he relieved this fellow of the bags and suggested that I go and find the money.


Our companion on the doorstep looked perplexed, perhaps even aggrieved at the loss of his bags.


“Mate, what are you doing? I live here.”


Now I posses no remarkable record of life experiences, but in my twenty-two years of experience I have never seen a more cringingly awkward situation. Hastily apologising, and returning the bags, my friend and I made a quick exit. How important it is to take care when meeting new people.


In what has now become a little personal routine, before writing these letters every week, I have taken to perusing the various whack news stories circulating on the internet.


There is one which takes my fancy this week. At a push, I think I can make it relevant. So, if you will bear with me, I would like to share it with you.


A Swedish couple have come regret their careless inputting of data into the satellite navigation system. They were holidaying in the south of Italy, and wanted to experience the glistening sands, and famous ‘Blue Grotto’ of Capri Island.


Being sophisticated people of the technology age, the couple tapped-in the name of their desired destination to the SatNav, and set off. After a not inconsiderable drive of over four hundred kilometres, they found themselves at the other end of the country, in the gritty industrial town of Carpi.


Evidently they held only a rudimentary knowledge of geography and hadn’t appreciated that in order to gain access to an island, it is first necessary to cross water. Consequently our Swedish friends were rather frustrated when they went into the local tourist information office (not a sophisticated affair) to be told of their error




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