In the Business of Conversation

As a mathematical economics
major, I often compare doing math to doing business. Doing math is a linear
process: You calculate an answer, you check that answer, and you determine whether it’s correct or wrong. Doing business is a dynamic process. You want to sell me an apple for $10, but I am only willing to pay $2. You say eight bucks minimum; I say at most three.
You either choose to continue lowering your price until we reach an agreement,
or you tell me to go and find my own $2 apples. Deal’s over.

Is political correctness linear or dynamic? I think it’s the latter. Do we have set
rules for what makes a certain sentence offensive or not? No. Do we have total agreement on what is politically correct and what is not? Nah. 

I understand the value of political correctness. When we remind people of the potential offensiveness of their comments, we prevent people from offending each other. We
can create a more harmonious environment free of insults and micro-aggressions. However, because there is no absolute consensus on what is offensive, political correctness
can only be achieved via an interactive process. You make me upset; I tell you
I am upset. Then you either change your behavior or you don’t. Such a process
requires patience, mutual understanding, and effective communication.

I think that here in Claremont, we may be too
used to efficiency, so we try to enforce political correctness using the fewest number of words possible. We try to be very direct, often to the point of bluntness, so the Claremont way of doing this sounds like: “You made me upset. So you are wrong. SHUT UP.” That’s why we often see comments on the Facebook page Claremont Confessions in the general format of  “OP you are so wrong,” or “No, you can
NEVER understand me. YOU are offensive.”

This method might be efficient, but it doesn’t seem to be very effective. After all, since there’s no absolute agreement on political correctness, nobody can be more politically correct than someone else. When we preach our politically correct ideas in such seemingly efficient yet blunt—and sometimes judgmental—ways, we may
easily shut one or two people up. But they may just be shutting up to save themselves the trouble of responding. The more harshly they are criticized, the more likely they are to shut up, but the less likely they are to really learn from those critical comments.

The best way to achieve
political correctness is to let both sides speak up. Don’t judge others harshly
to make them change. Use facts, not blunt critiques, to show them your
concerns and inspire them to realize what you have realized. More importantly,
allow others to ignore you, and grant them the freedom to keep doing what you
have asked them not to do. 

People have the freedom to
keep saying what they believe—even if you think it’s offensive—and the freedom not to change their behavior if they truly believe they don’t need to. If they choose to continue speaking, they will have to
consider the consequences: Maybe you will be very angry. Maybe they will lose you
as a friend. If they don’t want to make you upset, they will change. But if they don’t care, they won’t. The fundamental idea is that we want what we want, and we
pay what it costs, but we all have the freedom to choose what we buy.

If you are willing to sell me an
apple at a price that makes both of us happy, that’s great. If you don’t care
about my request, I will just go buy my apples elsewhere and pay someone else. I will tell you that your apples are not worth $10, and you do have the freedom not to lower your price. The U.S. government is not going to tell you apples are worth $5—that’s why we can ensure a fair and functioning free market. We need to apply the
same idea when dealing with political correctness. Two bravely outspoken parties not afraid of sticking to their thoughts: That’s my idea of a harmonious and happy society.

Xiaoyin Qu PO ’15 is a computer science & mathematical economics major from Qingdao, China. 

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