Creating and fostering an environment of free speech, free thought and tolerance for varying points of view is presumed to be a tangible construct, one that we can see and experience in our everyday lives. Lately, this idea has lost its presence in the moment and has been relegated to the abstract- something that is said and thought of, yet rarely practiced. There has been a lot of attention placed on the current state of political correctness in our society. Every other day, a new topic is being prohibited, shunned and pushed aside because of its perceived inappropriateness, offensiveness and sensitivity.
As you probably read or have been a witness to, the newest “trend” on college campuses is the phenomena known as “micro-aggressions.” For those of you who have been able to dodge the micro-aggression,” you should know the definition according to psychologytoday.com. According to the website, micro aggressions “are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” If this sounds vague in nature, it is, because it has led to a movement where sharing one’s own history, reading literature and discussing unpleasant social events are now being called into question.
My own experience in graduate school was mixed, as I often found myself unwilling and more importantly, unable to provide feedback in an open discussion regarding interpersonal relationships, human behavior, sexuality and social norms. While the society at large sees me, a white male, as a non-marginalized individual, I in fact was scrutinized for views that did not fit the current political correctness mold. We preach and encourage a diversity of ideas, but what I have begun to see is we preach and tolerate diversity in the context of a homogenous group of people and views.
This does significant harm when working in the mental health field, as “micro aggressions” are used to explain subjective life experiences. As a matter of fact, I am unwilling to discuss rape, racism or any form of discrimantion for fear of being misunderstood, overgeneralized and attacked. This should not be the case in 2015. Universities, classrooms and policy-makers need to be honest when discussing these areas of one’s life experience. Honesty is not synonymous with bluntness and it is certainly not mutually exclusive from empathy, compassion and care.
Those who hold views that run counter to the current state of feminism, gender issues, religion and sexuality should not be ostracized, ridiculed and asked to step aside. Rather, these individuals should be brought into the discussion and welcomed, as true debate and the fostering of open ideas requires a diversity of ideas that are uncomfortable. That is life. We all face harsh realities, developmental milestones and internal conflicts that can be unpleasant. We should stop ignoring them, repressing them and blaming society.