I was born in 1976, so must of my childhood memories are from the 80’s and 90’s. My first real moment of political awareness was Reagan getting shot. Before that, I’m not sure I was aware that we had anything called a President, or a government. I might have been, but if I was, I don’t remember it. The 80’s and 90’s shaped my views on politics in weird ways, but there is one that I remember very well, and that it took me a long time to get over.
Now, I imagine you’re thinking at this point that this is going to be a long tirade against Political Correctness, Cancel Culture, Social Justice Warriors and lots of whining about how we can’t say anything without being cancelled. I assure you, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of that.
Growing up, I heard people complaining about Political Correctness all the time, and being young and stupid, I bought into the lie. I bought into the notion that Political Correctness was something bad, that it was a restriction of free speech, that it was stupid and unrealistic and full of double speak. Like a lot of people my age, I got really invested in the idea of rejecting Political Correctness, and the idea that doing so was speaking truth.
But then, something happened. I grew up, and I started to really look at myself and figure myself out. I started to realize that a lot of the slurs and insults and the ‘politically incorrect’ terms that people liked to throw around applied to me. I started to realize how cruel and mean spirited they were. It made me stop and really take a look at what Political Correctness was.
Political Correctness is, at its most basic level, an attempt to be kind, compassionate and empathetic. Political Correctness is a bunch of people saying “Hey, wouldn’t it be a good thing if we didn’t refer to those with less power and privilege in society by slurs and other forms of demeaning language?”. And the backlash against Political Correctness is a bunch of people saying, “No, I want to keep using slurs and demeaning language to talk about people.”
It was just the first of many moments in my life that caused a radical shift in my political outlook, but it was easily the most profound, because it made me realize something about the modern world that I don’t think a lot of people have. I’m honestly not sure how much of this has spilled over into other cultures but considering how pervasive American influence is the world over, I suspect it’s an attitude which has crept into must cultures which consume large amounts of western media at this point.
We have, as a culture, accepted that kindness is a sin and a vice. We look down on those in need. We view poverty as a character flaw, rather than a circumstance. We view members of marginalized groups as lazy whiners who just don’t do enough to get ahead, even when the entire system is stacked against them. And then we turn around and mock anyone who even suggests that we should be kind to them. We lift cruelty up as a virtue. People proudly announce their disdain for kindness and compassion in their social media profiles crouched in language like “Not Politically Correct” or “Anti-SJW.”
It only gets worse when people complain about how they are treated. Someone throws out a slur, or repeats a harmful stereotype, and God forbid a member of the affected community say anything, because the moment they do, it seems like everyone will dog pile on them to tell them what a horrible human being they are to ask for someone to treat them with common decency.
It goes beyond just patterns of speech, too. We live in a world where people seem offended by even the thought that something they do might benefit someone other than themselves. If you look at people’s reaction to the notion of things like universal healthcare, welfare programs, even free meal programs at schools, people rage at the idea that any of their tax money might go to help someone less fortunate than they are.
I don’t know when this happened. I don’t know if the world has always been like this, and I just realized it as I grew up, or if there was some point in the past where we as a culture were kinder and more compassionate, when we cared more for each other than we do now. I do know that this has to end. I know that we as a species cannot survive like this. I know that we need each other, that humans are built to exist in and thrive in communities.
Civilization is about coming together and sharing the burden. It’s about being able to do more because we work as a group. It’s about everything everyone does contributing to the good of the group as well as the individual. When everyone is out only for themselves, when kindness, compassion and empathy vanish, then civilization is doomed.
I don’t have a neat ending for this post, or a way to tie it back into writing and storytelling. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a while, and something I had to speak out about, even if it’s to a small audience. We have to stop looking at kindness as a crime. We have to rehabilitate its reputation. We have to re-enshrine it as the highest of all virtues. Otherwise, we’re going to tear each other apart, and we will have no one but ourselves to blame.