Drawing a (shaky) line between PC culture and respect

I plead guilty to inciting panic without a just cause. I have a history of pursuing discussions with fervency, despite some not meriting that response.Other times, though, I’ve offered resistance to damaging dialogue or discussions for the sake of safety. I’ve been reflecting on these instances frequently as they become more relevant in a societal context. For example, they’ve surfaced in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and Donald Trump’s political campaign. They’ve found their way into public discourse about the culture of universities and the limitations imposed on certain types of discourse. What I’ve come to find is that the line between oversensitivity and merited resistance is thin and shaky, despite most public discourse portraying it as bold and clear-cut. Yelling “fire” in response to a flickering candle is asinine and dangerous. On the flip side, responding to engulfing flames with a careless shrug is just as absurd. Our dialogue about what some call the “politically correct (PC) culture” is often times rooted in such extremes. Again, I am guilty of such polarization, but have come to terms with the idea that it’s greyer than I ever imagined. I understand arguments against the culture of safe spaces. Limiting ideas can set up a slippery slope that enables one dominant idea (progressivism in this case) to become the only idea. If this were to prevail, we would have no discourse. My opinion column wouldn’t be relevant because I would have nothing to disagree with! With that said, I can also understand the importance of sustaining spaces where people do feel comfortable to exist without discrimination or prejudice. In many cases, what we call “over sensitivity” is actually someone asserting their own right to exist as a person without someone else’s bullshit getting in the way. More specifically, it is said by privileged people when oppressed people speak out against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc. Rather than taking in their claims and deciding the size of the flame attached to their “fire” warning call, the opposition closes their eyes and hides behind a fireproof cloak. The flames will not burn them. The issues will not crisp their skin. So why must they look? That’s where the problem lies. Instead of immediately responding to instances of social or political activism with “calm down” or “you’re being too sensitive,” consider their point more thoroughly. Many times, the opposition is not to free speech but rather to hate speech. It’s a strong dislike for people who are inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory. There are controlled fires that allow for renewal of life in heavily wooded areas, but there are also wild fires that decimate entire communities – one has a purpose, one just exists to tear down. And for those of us who are passionate about certain issues or are personally affected by acts of injustice regularly, let’s consider the gravity of the situation and the best way to respond. I will not tell you how to personally respond, because that’s up to you. But for me, the solution is often times found in simply listening to the other person. When I divorce myself from the (typical) biases they display, it gives me the option to actually engage with their ideas. Debate is an incredible way to strengthen your own ideas and argue them more articulately. This is why it’s beneficial to listen in. Unfortunately, not all discourse falls into the category of intellectual debate. If the discussion is dominated by bigotry, accusations, or unnecessary inflammatory statements, then I am going to speak up. But if it’s a case of differing opinions, ones that don’t belittle the humanity of any group, then I’ll at least lend an ear. That way when it becomes a topic for my next column, the counter argument is easier to tear apart.