Have you ever looked back at some of the things you said or did as a kid or a young adult and cringed? I don't even need to look back all that far, relatively speaking, to find things that came out of my mouth or friends' mouths that I wish I could do over.
For me, it's fascinating to see how we collectively change and evolve over time. Things that were a matter of fact in one era become the stuff of social paraihism at a later time. And this often happens so seamlessly, that we barely notice these shifts in our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world as they occur.
These days, in an age of 24-hour news cycles and all pervasive social media, we tend to watch what we say pretty carefully. You never know where your words might inconveniently pop-up later on.
Sometimes you'll hear people grumbling about, "thought police" and the impact of out of control political correctness has had on freedom of speech. We're so focused fee-fee's (meaning feelings), this line of thinking goes, that we don't actually say what we think anymore and have turned into society's of weak-kneed liars.
Undoubtedly there is something to this perspective that is worth considering, but a study I came across today demonstrates why it is misguided to chalk our tendency towards colloquial clean up up to the dictates of political correctness:
Researchers examined the impact of hearing “that’s so gay” among 114 gay, lesbian and bisexual students between the ages of 18 to 25 through an online survey.
Students reported how often they heard the phrase on campus in the past 12 months. They also answered questions about their perceived social acceptance on campus, physical well-being, mental health and willingness to disclose their sexual orientation.
Data suggests gay, lesbian and bisexual college students who heard “that’s so gay” more frequently were more likely to report feeling isolated and to suffer negative health symptoms, such as headaches, poor appetite or eating problems.
It's not just that we can hurt people's feelings with the things we say, but that the sort of alienation felt by the use of derisive and exclusionary language can have long term psychological and even physical repercussions. Feelings, it would seem, are only the tip of the iceberg.
So while it is always good to push the boundaries of social convention and tread into areas of discussion that don't always make us entirely comfortable, it is equally important to consider how skillfully we do those things and what the impacts of our actions are on others. Developing greater care and attention to the impact of our words, though it certainly makes us more cautious, strikes me as a good thing, overall.
What do you think? What's the right balance? Do we need to go through what we say and how we say it with a finer tooth comb or throw off the shackles of the thought police and implement a policy of radical honesty?