Political correctness has gone rogue. Certain words, uttered innocently or in jest, are enough to get you strung up these days; or, at the very least, blacklisted for life. It has become a serious faux pas to utter such oldies but goodies as “black,” “boob,” “blind,” “bum,” “cracker,” “crazy,” “deaf,” “drunkard,” “dumb,” “fat,” “fireman,” “gay,” “garbage man,” “ghetto,” “girl,” “handicapped,” “honey,” “Indian,” “midget,” “old,” “oriental,” “policeman,” “redneck,” “retarded,” “secretary,” “stupid,” “ugly,” “white,” “whore” and, my personal favorite, “Christmas.”
Are some of these terms offensive? Perhaps for some, but not me. Why? Because they’re just words, people! I am a writer. I celebrate words. And I don’t discriminate—I love them all. I celebrate each word’s Etymologies: its history, its languages of origin, the meaning of its root words, its place in our culture, and its evolution over time. I appreciate how words reflect our differences through dialect, pejorative, and hyperbole. Words tell us so much more than the word says itself by its very meaning. A word, whether spoken or written, reflects the user’s level of education, values, feelings, culture and ethnicity.
It has become a witch hunt of sorts these days, vaguely reminiscent of the days of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. Every time I watch the evening news, open my personal e-mail or peruse the Internet, I am bombarded by streaming news of writers, politicians, celebrities, sports figures, and artists crucified for insensitive comments. How this happens, with the legions of PR folks paid to manage the verbal diarrhea, is truly beyond me. All of this political correctness has spawned what I like to refer to as the “Gold Star Syndrome,” where the first person to admonish another for his or her political incorrectness earns the gold star for the day. What is the result? Carefully scripted press releases by people who do not wish to be publically flogged for every verbal misstep. The PC Police are ever-vigilant.
At times, language or verbiage is unmistakably offensive; other times, the offended parties seem only interested in furthering their own social or political agenda. This is America. I served four years in my beloved Marine Corps (which, by the way, has taken political incorrectness to an entirely new level) to preserve those freedoms which ensure the rights of the stupid and idiotic to say pretty much whatever the hell they want. I could also defend the use of curse words in the common vernacular because, from a historical perspective, profanity has been used in our English language since medieval times, many having originally derived from Old English (e.g. shit — interj. Vulgar Slang. Used to express anger or disappointment. [Middle English shiten, to void excrement, Old English scīan (attested only in compound bescītan, to befoul). See skei- in Appendix.*]
The one caveat is that a place of business, educational institution, or public office absolutely must dictate what is, and what is not, acceptable language. Granted. But, be careful, folks. Because when you tread on the rights of every wackadoo and nut bag who issue forth an opinion, either privately or in public, you’re doing the exact same thing to yourself. The destruction of the fundamental right to self-expression happens in the tiniest degrees, as most bad things tend to do and, in our zeal to make everyone feel comfortable, we are dancing dangerously close to the flames of institutionalized thinking.
I always cringe when I hear well-meaning people talk about prohibiting groups like the Klu Klux Klan from organizing publicly to prevent them from spewing their racial hatred. I say, “Let ‘em spew!” Nothing changes hearts or minds faster than the public outcry elicited by such an event. Don’t allow old fears and hatreds to fester in the darkness, hidden away behind closed doors, skulking about in back rooms, waiting to corrupt the hearts and minds of the innocent. Bring them out into the light. Offer those with differing viewpoints to express them openly, without fear of governmental, legal, or media reprisal, in order to begin the necessary dialogue that will truly usher in change.
For those of you who have eagerly enlisted to the ranks of the Politically Correct, it is my personal opinion that a hyper-sensitivity to certain words only belies your own emotional baggage, feelings of inequity, or insecurities. It also invites further abuse. So, pull on your big-boy (or big-girl) pants and stop acting like a victim. I appreciate any person with the stones to even HAVE an opinion on much of anything these days, especially if it runs counter to the delicate sensitivities of society as a whole. Since when does the good of the whole supersede the rights of the individual?
Here’s what I think. If you have something to say, for heaven’s sake, say it. Say it in your own voice, write it in your own words, and create it in your own style— political correctness be damned. Do not be afraid, PC people! You can handle this. Really.
I have come to the conclusion that a large subset of the American population suffer from a bloated sense of entitlement. Such an unrealistic symptom is often attributed to the poor, the uneducated, the minority classes, or to the otherwise socio-economically disenfranchised; however, on this point, I beg to differ. More often I have seen an exaggerated sense of entitlement in the young, the well-educated, in the “upper-crust”of society. All things considered, I suppose a sense of entitlement crosses demographic boundaries.
Wikipedia describes those who suffer from this affliction as persons who “arrogate to themselves the right to demand lifelong reimbursement from fate.” Really? Here are my thoughts on the matter: Young adults are not entitled to a college education paid for by their parent, taxpayers, or the federal government; children are not entitled to any modicum of privacy, at school or at home; those who’ve been blessed to have received a higher education are not entitled to certain wages or privileges in the workplace; American companies are not entitled to be frequented by American consumers; servicemen and women are not entitled to a job when they return home;
workers are not entitled to a living wage; Americans are not entitled to Internet access, a cellphone, or to cable television.
Now, let me differentiate between being deserving and being entitled, because the two are not the same. I strongly feel combat veterans are deserving of preferential hiring. I, myself, am a veteran. But any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who feels entitled to preferential treatment is disabled in ways they may not even comprehend. Many such deserving and hardworking individuals do not get what they deserve in life. That’s how life is sometimes.
But a sense of entitlement breeds apathy, resentment, sloth, ineptitude and, worst of all, arrogance. It is a hunger that America cannot afford to feed anymore because it is devouring the creative juices and innovative thinking of an entire generation. It is a cancer that threatens to consume itself and its host along with it.
I often think about my grandmother who was a young girl during the Great Depression. The Great Depression was a time when nothing was wasted. Folks were remarkably self-reliant, and proud of it. Only in an emergency did they rely on family, friends and neighbors to help them get by. How many of you actually know your neighbors? Is this what we have become as a society? Is this the legacy we want to leave our children, and our grandchildren? Not me!
So, what’s the cure? Work!
Work hard. Work harder than you ever thought possible and, afterward, revel in what you have created. Then, get up the next day and do it all over again. Humble yourself. Serve. Don’t be a generation of consumers. Create! Innovate. Inspire. Collaborate. Take the road less-traveled. Suffer a few sleepless nights in pursuit of your dreams. Because until we become hungry again as a nation, any sense of entitlement will only deepen the divide between us.
My name is Pamela Reid, and I am the author of "The Weaver’s Loom." I grew up on Pigeon Hill, a community of Hungarian, Luxembourg and Romanian immigrants in Aurora, Illinois, where I uncovered my own Hungarian Jewish heritage - a secret kept hidden for three generations.
"The Weaver’s Loom" is a story about forgiveness. It explores the struggles of two beautiful cultures, bound together by the great human tragedy, the Holocaust. This is no political novel. It is an illumination of an enduring friendship between two unlikely women with an indomitable will to live.
One of the main characters in "The Weaver’s Loom" is based on a woman named Mary Lanka—my great-great grandmother—whose single defining legacy was having two children by a Jewish man in Hungary. "The Weaver’s Loom" is technically a work of fiction; however, like most historical fiction, a good deal of it is based on fact.
How do I get my ideas? Well, life has a funny way of providing oceans of material from which to draw really great stories. I was also lucky enough to come from a family of truly great storytellers. Family gatherings were never wasted sitting in front of the television, drinking wine and playing cards, or pecking away at electronic devices. When my family gathered around the dining room table for a meal, before long, either my grandmother or father was hip-deep in some hilarious story about a long-dead relative.
Meals carried on late into the evening. Coffee and desserts were promptly served, but folks still lingered in their chairs, picking at the crumbs on their plates, not ready to leave the table. It didn’t matter how many times you heard a story, the telling and retelling was filled with such vivid detail, it was as though you were hearing it for the very first time.
I grew older, and my grandmother, frailer. I began to worry about all of the wonderful stories that would be lost upon her passing. I bought a digital tape recorder for her to talk into, but she wasn’t interested. She said that
sharing stories with her family was enough. What I didn’t understand was that she NEEDED human interaction to draw the stories out of her. Grandma eventually moved into a nursing home, growing more silent and withdrawn with each passing day, and when she passed, her stories died along with her.
Through the artful storytelling of my mostly poor and uneducated relatives, I learned what the “arc of a story” was LONG before I ever put pen to paper. Unfortunately, natural-born storytellers are becoming rarer, while published authors almost commonplace; however, the work of today’s author is critically important to the next generation of up-and-coming storytellers.
What advice would I give to a young writer? Well, last Thanksgiving I was cornered in my living room by an aspiring young writer who wanted to know how to get published. Of course I was flattered he would think enough of me to ask for my advice, so I gave him a high-level overview of every book I’d ever read about how to get published.
“Yeah, but how do I get published? I REALLY want to get published.”
I took a deep breath. I reiterated how to get published in both traditional and non-traditional terms. I gave him several of my own query letters, scratching the titles of important resources to pick up at the library.
“Yeah, but how do I get published? I’d do ANYTHING to get published.”
This went on for nearly an hour. Was I annoyed? Yeah. I had worked in the publishing industry for more than 25 years—in my earliest days, as an underpaid, unappreciated flunky. I had survived seeing my hard work stolen by my editors. I’d anguished over credit taken for my ideas. Yeah, I’d paid my dues. This young person’s need for instant gratification was too much for me to bear.
I cut him off mid-sentence.
“Do you want to get published? Or do you want to be a great writer?”
“No. One does not necessarily mean the other. What do you want?”
“I want to be a great writer.”
“Excellent! What do you like to read?”
“Nothing. I hate reading.”
“Okay. Then, you will NEVER be a great writer.”
Why did I say that? Because, over the course of the past 43 years, I’d learned that solid writing technique was mostly a matter of osmosis. Garbage in, garbage out. Fill your mind with great writing and, voila, you WILL get
better. Your vocabulary will improve, your sentence structure will improve, your dialogue will improve, your character development will improve, and your plot line will improve. The literary classics are like Miracle-Gro® for an aspiring writer.
So, for aspiring writers of all ages, here are my suggestions.
Learn how to listen—and, I mean, REALLY listen. And not just to praise, because 99% of the praise from family and friends is the rough equivalent of a fart in the wind. Listen to your critics and detractors. Search for that one
nugget of truth in their words that will help you rise to the next level.
Observe the world around you.
Take time to figure out what makes people tick. Especially the ones you DON’T like.
And, most importantly, let it marinate. Take time to reflect—and evolve. Because great writing does more than just entertain a reader. It TRANSFORMS the reader.