Call them by their name.

I recently read an article about climate change and the emotional consequences thereof. The coming devastation is making people ill in advance; their fear, sense of impotence, and grief manifest in various ways, including increased anxiety and depression. Some are even developing PTSD. People are being traumatized by the coming trauma.

In an effort to mitigate the emotional consequences, some politicians are suggesting we “depoliticize” the language. Don’t address global warming, change the words we use. Be circumspect and obscure so people aren’t negatively impacted. For “people,” you can read business, and for business, read “big business.”

Is it ironic that the politicians suggesting this are the same ones who deride “politically correct” language when it comes to interacting with people?

They aren’t alone. Large numbers are put out by the requirements of “politically correct terminology.” I think they used to call it “being polite.” The complainers seem to feel that being polite and inclusive, that being unable to say horrible things or make racist jokes at the local grocery store infringes on their rights unbearably. Mention their religion, however, and hypocrisy rises from the ashes of smug.

They aren’t constrained from speaking their “truth,” of course. The “politically correct” movement doesn’t prohibit them in any way. They just don’t like what happens next. Those who whine about restrictions to their rudeness often mistake freedom of expression with freedom from consequences. And yet, sometimes, I think they have a point. Sometimes I think our tendency to embrace the euphemism will be the death of us.

I’m not referring to interpersonal relations. I don’t have a problem asking people to stop using words as weapons (though I use fewer words in the real world, and the phrase “jerk” might possibly appear). I do have a problem with softening the language to minimize the uncomfortable and unpleasant. Mitigating ugly truths to avoid causing stress is a patronizing, paternalistic mistake.

I don’t think we should sanitize the hard and ugly. It’s a mistake to try and make the messy, tidy. It’s a mistake to make the intolerable sanitary and suitable for the masses. We shouldn’t worry that describing horrors will enrage and distress.

We should worry when they don’t.

I’m good with the scarily descriptive words people are using to describe the climate crisis. I wish we did it with more universality.

I miss rape.

Not the act itself – according to statistics, it’s going strong. Rising even. But where I live, “rape” isn’t a crime. It doesn’t even exist. The new term legal term is “sexual assault.” I don’t love that it feels less horrifying. As though the act is about sex and not violence. But an argument was made that calling it “rape” was discriminatory towards the accused. Apparently, it made them seem like bad people. Or something along those lines. Better to link it to sex and turn it into a nudge, a wink, and a blame-the-victim.

Or how about “impaired driving causing death?” That doesn’t sound so bad. Almost like a blameless crime. We all know driving drunk is a bad choice. Choosing to proceed with selfishly stupid and subsequently killing someone doesn’t deserve a benign description. It’s premeditated murder: call it by name and have the consequences fit the actual crime.

If calling the pending environmental apocalypse “apocalyptic” stresses people out, sugar coat it. Neutering the truth changes reality, right? And we need it to change, on occasion. Other people are horrible, it’s true, but sometimes, condemned behaviours hit close to home. Far better to think about them as beyond our control.

We’re not bad people because we do bad things.

It could have happened to anyone.


What do you think about the idea of “political correctness?”
Are you good at taking personal responsibility (I’m not great)?

credit: Bill Watterson

19 thoughts on “Call them by their name.

Add yours

  1. I agree with not candy coating real and hard issues. We recently went to NYC and spent some time in the 9/11 Memorial. It was painfully beautiful and though one may want to look away or leave because of the emotions stirred up I think that’s when it’s most important to lean in and acknowledge. Only then can we begin to truly make changes. For whatever my two cents is worth. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would hope that proper use of political correctness would be to avoid inaccurate or unnecessarily demeaning statements or generalizations. But when supposed political correctness moves in the opposite direction from accuracy, that’s a big problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve stumbled upon that article, too.
    We coddle everyone too much with the “correct” words. We focus on protecting people from hurtful words but often forget about the byproduct of it all. Thanks for focusing the light on that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This came up in a recent post of mine. I’ve finally had it. I’m not going to let people’s comments and references slip by anymore. If their excuse is that they are old fashion, that makes it worse because they are excusing their own behavior. As far as climate change and all the other gazillion issues, being softened, wow! I don’t listen to the news, except science news. These things make me extremely angry and I can’t afford to have that emotion with my complicated life. Maybe I can make a wee bit of difference confronting one person at a time. It’s not much but if everyone did the same, our world might be a better, more reality based place.
    Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It’s a fine line, isn’t it, standing for what you believe is important and not being overwhelmed and enraged by it. I try and remember the only thing we control is ourselves, so my doing you, you are doing a lot, and all that can be asked of you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Which brings my tiny little mind to Ernest Becker:
          “What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms. This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consiousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression and with all this yet to die. It seems like a hoax, which is why one type of cultural man rebels openly against the idea of God. What kind of deity would crate such a complex and fancy worm food?” 😨

          Liked by 1 person

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