Last month I posed this question to readers: Where is the line between political correctness and manners? Do some people use "not being politically correct" as a justification for rudeness? Readers seemed unanimous in thinking that was the case. I agree. Like anything else, the correctness can go too far, but not being politically correct is often a veiled excuse to be just a little bit nasty to someone else. Here's how some of our readers answered:
It seems that the term usually is used without any thought to the meaning behind it, merely to justify mean-spirited and generally unacceptable principles ("rudeness," if you will, but that's often contextually too mild a word). In these cases, in my mind "PC" really means something more like "properly civil" or "perfectly compassionate." There certainly are times when political correctness is carried to extremes and a bit ridiculous, but it's hard to define ("I know it when I see it"). Simple rule: If it offends people, don't do it (and don't try to tell them why they shouldn't be offended). Simpler rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Dave in Pa.
Rudeness has been around for so long, but not to the degree that has been shown in the last eight years. If you need to speak your mind, it's how and what you say that makes the difference. I call it the use of tact and diplomacy. That's not to say you can never get angry, but "not being PC" has become the standard excuse for some to be unfiltered and crude at the expense of others.
- Joyce in Pa.
"Political correctness" simply is "good manners." I have long disliked the "PC" connotation, which implies that such behavior is something we must be aware of and "practice" in our day-to-day interactions. I particularly abhor people who talk about "political correctness" with disdain and derision, because they prefer not to behave in the manner prescribed. It is my feeling that if one has been raised with respect and concern for the sensitivities of one's fellow human beings (be they male, female, or LGBT; Muslim, Jew, or Christian; black, yellow, red, or pink with purple polka dots), one will always be "politically correct" without any effort in thinking about whether one's actions are "right" or "wrong."
- Doris in Pa.
I always thought PC was just a ruse by ignorant, hateful people who didn't want to be polite or considerate of someone who was different from them or whom they didn't like. It gave them an excuse to be mean and or a bully and get away with it.
- Mike from N.J.
Question: I have a dilemma. My wife and I met with our accountant, who was positioned directly across the table from us with the sun illuminating his features. On the drive home I asked my wife if she had noticed our accountant's ear hair, which was very dark and long and took something away from the meeting because I was looking more at his ears than him. My wife said she noticed the same thing. We don't know if we should say something. We do not want to break from him or his firm and we do not want to embarrass him.
- S in N.J.
Answer: Unless someone asks advice about his or her appearance, there isn't much you can say that won't be hurtful or perceived as rude. Even when someone asks, one must handle with care. Ask my husband, who must often field the question "Do I look chubby in this dress?" I would say your options are limited here, unfortunately. Try to ignore his grooming or find a new accountant.
Q: I invited my neighbor for coffee and she came to my apartment with her dog. Shouldn't she have asked?
- O in Pa.
A: Yes. She should have asked. I love all animals, with the exception of snakes and hermit crabs, but manners dictate that pets need to be invited.
Q: I work for a nonprofit and often deal with people in need of our help. If a message is left on the answering machine, so many times it is impossible to return the call because the person rattles off the phone number so fast it is impossible to understand. What can be done?
- Shirley in N.J.
A: I would say on your phone message, "Please leave your number slowly." I think this is an offense many of us have done at times and it is frustrating for the person trying to retrieve the number.
Q: We invited a friend to our wedding but did not give a plus one - our numbers are tight, and we don't know his girlfriend. He mentioned to someone that both were coming - he thinks he has a plus one, and we need to clarify that with him. Is there any way to do this without seeming rude?
- E in N.J.
A: Whether intentional or not, the friend is the one with the manners violation here. If the invitation doesn't say plus one, a guest is not included. I think you have to kindly email your friend and say, "I'm sorry, but we can't accommodate any extra people. We certainly hope you will still come for this special day."
Note to Readers: This is my last manners column for the Inquirer. Thank you so much for all your participation. It has been my pleasure and privilege to write this column each month and hear from all of you.