The Curse of Being too Politically Correct
I was walking Zak, the world’s largest Shih Tzu, through one of his favorite parks on a breezy day when he caught whiff of a scent that made him yank so hard on his leash that it almost knocked me to the ground. “Over here, daddy,” he demanded, as he pulled me in the direction of a picnic table about 20 yards away.
There sat a quite elderly couple quietly having a bite to eat. Seemingly starved, Zak gleefully pounced on the woman as I struggled to hold back all 26 pounds of him.
“So sorry,” I said to the couple. “He thinks all food is intended for him.”
The man smiled and without a word the woman reached for a piece of fried potato to give to Zak. “Oh, no thank you,” I said, “He is on a strict diet and doesn’t digest fried food well.”
That’s when I noticed that the potatoes were in a small white paper bag with a Chick-fil-A logo, right next to a larger bag with the same name. Despite the couple’s kindness to Zak and willingness to forgive my inability to control him, I instantly became annoyed. I have boycotted the eat-chickens-not-cows company for several years because of COO Dan Cathy’s vocal and financial opposition to marriage equality. I was about to tell these octogenarians they should not patronize Chick-fil-A because of its anti-gay leadership, but I bit my tongue instead.
This gentle old pair was being nice to me and my dog and they had simply come to the park to enjoy a meal in the shade as they overlooked a pretty lake. I, quite typically, was ready to go to war at the slightest sign of politically insensitive behavior.
Much to Zak’s dismay I just smiled and pulled us away. But I began to wonder if people like me can be too politically correct, as some people who show very little concern for offending others often charge. The couple in the park probably had no idea that by eating a sandwich they were trampling my civil rights. And if I had further disrupted their lunch by informing them of their transgression would they be receptive to the knowledge or simply regret having offered the accursed french fry to my wretched cur in the first place?
Probably the latter. It wasn’t really an ideal teaching moment.
My politically sensitive elder niece and I have had several discussions about the Chic-fil-A dilemma, notably how to deal with my two great-nephews who adore its tenders or nuggets or whatever they call those things. Our compromise: The boys may occasionally eat food from Chic, but their adult companions may not. The boys are still a bit too young to understand the socio-political ramifications of what and where they eat, though they already have a better appreciation of same-sex couples than do many of their peers so they are likely to make the right choice once their chicken crosses that road.
My friend Marla is another well-intentioned soul who struggles with the “pee-cee” issue. As a lifelong feminist, a lesbian mother, and a native of the Northwest who relocated to Florida only recently, she is highly offended when servers in restaurants refer to her as “sweetie” or “hon.” Many of us try to calm her with the explanation that “it’s just a Southern thing.” But Marla will have none of it, scolding male and female wait staffers alike that they are disrespectful and belittling.
It’s partly an age thing but it’s also a respect-for-women issue, especially when the “honey” oozes from the mouth of a male. Both Marla and I came of age at a time when language was an important aspect of casting off male chauvinism. In the late 1960s and through the 1970s, it was considered extremely sexist to refer to a grown woman as a “chick” or a “girl.” I’ve always found the word “chick” to be obnoxious, and I still try to avoid “girl” for any female older than her mid-teens. That’s despite the fact that the times have changed and most mature women I know today are thrilled to refer to themselves as “one of the girls,” just as we older guys enjoy fooling ourselves into thinking we’re “one of the boys.”
So, what once may have been PC isn’t necessarily always PC. Still, it’s not easy for someone like me to lighten up.
Yesterday, at the swimming pool where I do laps, a straight male friend in the next lane motioned me over to convey some gossip. Michael told me in a hushed tone that a mutual acquaintance in a local community theater group has left his wife and come out of the closet. Then Michael added a postscript: “So, he’s on your team, for now.”
“For now???” I wanted to scream. “Do you think that finally working up the courage to deal honestly with your sexual orientation and separating from your wife is like choosing up sides for a potato sack race? Do you think he’s going to flip-flop back and forth between gay and straight for the rest of his life?”
But I didn’t go there. Once again, I passed up an opportunity to impart a learning lesson. After all, I was in the pool for exercise and relaxation, not a jolt of stress. Plus, Michael means well. He is definitely on our side in our big political battles and counts numerous gay folks as close friends (not just in a “some of my best friends are gay” kind of way). But he’s not as politically correct as I want him to be.
Michael told me he long suspected that our theater actor/ director acquaintance was gay so was not surprised by the news. I reminded him that it’s not easy for some people to come out, especially if they had committed to an opposite-sex spouse at a point in their life when it seemed the only sensible thing to do. I wanted to add, “But that doesn’t mean it’s a choice. Don’t expect him to run back over to your team like Lebron James hopping between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers. ”
I didn’t say that, although I was sure Michael would appreciate my knowledge of professional sports (which is quite limited). I let the conversation close and butterflied my way toward the other end of the pool. Still, I kept asking myself all day whether I should have said more.
When social and political causes are deeply implanted in your soul or DNA or both, it can be difficult to know when to cut offenders a little slack. Still, the older I get the more willing I am to give folks some wiggle room for their errors. Sometimes. Occasionally.
By the way, Zak wants me to tell you that he is not overweight. The vet says he is in terrific shape and is just “large of frame.” That’s the PC way to put it.