Hatred taking sides

I know that political correctness has had its ups and downs, and we seem to be cresting a wave of appreciation for keeping it real and saying what nobody else will say. And there’s value in that. But it carries an unfortunate undercurrent of acceptance for meanness and hatred.

You don’t have to look any further than the presidential polls topping headlines to find a few statements that prove it. “He’s racist and misogynistic,” people say about Trump, “but at least he says what he means, and hey, couldn’t we use some of that?”

Or think about the terrible boss you’ve had, and the way people said that sure, she was degrading and hateful toward employees, but she got things done. How about the guy you know who’s incredibly homophobic, but really, he’s a pretty nice bloke?

The trouble with hatred today is that it’s on the wrong side of the ‘but’. The problem with the way we handle bad behaviour in the post-PC era is that all too often, we don’t. We gloss over it, like it’s a perfectly acceptable offhanded introductory remark. Nothing but a syntactical element to be included for semantic accuracy or sentence flow.

Language has a lot of power that way. We put hatred before the but, and then whatever comes after the but just sort of washes it away, and with it, clears off all the consequences that ought to accompany being a pretty terrible person.

Being racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other kind of hate-filled doesn’t have a lot of practical downside in our society. We think there are situations where the quality of ones’ character doesn’t matter so much, because there are valuable skills and traits of enough import to balance hatred out by sitting on the other side of the but.

Like turning a tidy profit makes it okay to treat employees badly. Or as if being the sort of person who’ll help a friend move on the Saturday of a long weekend makes it okay to yell obscenities at homeless people. We all do it. We all put hate on the wrong side of the but.

The grammarian in me will admit that technically speaking, there isn’t any hierarchical relationship inherent between two clauses with a but in the middle. But the rhetorician in me would argue that it’s actually pretty important and influences how we weigh these traits in people against each other.

So I’m challenging everyone to flip their buts. Just literally turn your sentences around and see how they sound.

“She makes great points, but she’s really mean to people.”

“He’s always been kind to me, but he was so rude to those immigrants.”

“You’re really funny most of the time, but sometimes the stuff you say is not cool.”

“He’s exceptionally smart, but he’s openly hateful toward minorities, so he has no business being a leader in this company.”

…and a whole host of other situations in the public and corporate realms where someone seems to get away with bad behaviour by balancing it with a trait deemed valuable enough to outweigh the damage caused by their enmity.

It’s high-time hatred had real consequences. There are too many good people in the world for us to be making excuses for the bad ones. Who’s with me now in putting hatred back on the right side of the ‘but’?

Originally published in Our London on September 15, 2016.