I Choose the Benefit of the Doubt

by Jen Barton

The Declaration of Independence speaks of inalienable rights, meaning rights that can't be taken away. Thomas Jefferson defines these rights as "... that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." A Living Room Conversations group recently came to the conclusion that perhaps the declaration of Independence should be amended to also include, "the right to be offended."

My conversationalists and I didn't quite know how to begin our juicy discussion on the topic of Political Correctness, which prompted one of us to look up the original definition of the term. Wikipedia supplied us with this basic notion: language, policies, or measures that are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society. We were thankful for the definition, but we quickly found we couldn't use this definition because it offended someone.

Flippancy aside, we each shared sentiments of the opposing side of a PC world, one that is overly sensitive, easily offended, seemingly composed of random groups of people that share a circumstance rather than a race, gender, national origin, etc. who want others to behave differently or speak differently around them so as not to hurt feelings. In short, we agreed with Wikipedia's basic definition and admitted to trying to adhere to it, but the landslide of the movement has crippled our conversations at best, censored us all into reclusive, anti-social beings at worst. In general, we approach conversations with fear, stunted by internal self doubts like, "What if I offend him or her?" We start conversations like, "No offense to anyone, but..." to the point that we aren't always are authentic selves.

Is taking offense a choice?

One conversationalist shared a story of her deep, meaningful friendship with a cherished friend, and how it began by an insensitive comment made that she chose to overlook. She chose a second chance rather than taking offense.

We agreed that in large scale political correctness is necessary. However we prefer to simply call it respect, kindness, or compassion. We, as basic humanity dictates, should treat everyone, every group and essentially all who are different from ourselves (and alike, for that matter) with dignity. We need more Golden Rule and less correctness! When we make a mistake, say something insensitive, couldn't a second chance be offered? I fear political correctness has put us all on edge, changed the conversation rules to one-strike-and-you're-out philosophy. People are quick to write a blog post on social media pointing the proverbial finger at us and educating us on how to and how not to talk to a group of single moms, bird watchers, or female mechanics.

Many of us also had examples of encounters that felt awkward, but shared some successes when we chose boldness over our doubts in the face of discomfort. And guess what? It worked. To my neighbor I asked "what is your ethnicity?" Another contributed that she boldly asked a friend, "tell me about your Mormon beliefs." These questions ultimately led to thoughtful conversations and unity instead of ambiguous, quiet judgments.

Our conclusion was simple: Let's be warrior conversationalists. Be dauntless by giving others the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume best intentions and be generous with second chances. You might find a deeper connection, and much less worry in being politically correct, in doing so.

Jen Barton is a freelance writer specializing in business communication, articles, and essays. She has worked in media relations and acted as a spokesperson for public policy issues, corporate social responsibility, and major business partnerships. Barton is a U.S. Air Force veteran. She resides in Erie, Colorado with her husband and two children. jenleebarton@gmail.com