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No harm in striving to understand each person

By Hannah McLeod • Guest Columnist

Do not decry this generation for pushing the boundaries of respect/understanding/acceptance. 

People today like to deride certain aspects of our generation. They speak sarcastically about how “everyone has to have their own place, everyone is individual and unique, everyone deserves safe spaces.” As if this is somehow inherently wrong or a bogus notion. 

As a recent college graduate, I’ve heard a lot of this lately and I understand the point they’re trying to make. That the world does not revolve around you, or any single person for that matter; that each person is only one small part of the larger whole; that there won’t be a way around many of the hardships in life, they must be faced head on; that there won’t always be a “safe space” when things get tough. 

This is all true, and we would do well to learn from it. Universities are the places where much of this language and action begins, and while they can sometimes be havens, bubbles of blue, somewhat removed from certain realities of society, there is great value in what students are trying to accomplish. 

There is no harm in trying to understand more clearly the intricacies of yourself and the human beings all around you in order to treat them with greater respect. What people want/need to be called, who and how they love, language that should and should not be used because it is harmful, etc. And safe spaces, which have arguably received the most flack, were never intended to upset anyone. They were intended for minorities of any kind — sexuality, gender, race, mental state — to have a place they could go where they were free from the ridicule they face in everyday life. Let us live in our heightened respect for one another.

Entitled Republican politicians have taken this a step too far and shat on the term “political correctness,” and it has become a trigger used by those who resist the change necessary in order to create a more accepting/open/respectful society. But it is respect — for all those around you  — and nothing more. 

As we enter this primary season the mantra has come back, with Republican politicians running ads that declare they are “not politically correct,” or they “don’t stand for political correctness,” as if it is some sort of divisive issue. 

But if we replace this term with its essential meaning, respect, we can begin to understand these politicians’ real motives and attitude toward the people they are supposed to represent. It is no surprise that President Donald Trump has referred to Latin American immigrants as rapists and animals, or African countries as shithole countries, or called neo-Nazis “very fine people” when we remember that one campaign point of his was that he was against political correctness. Or, said another way, he was against respecting people that are different than him. 

He, and so many others, are against taking the time and effort necessary to educate themselves and try to understand people that are different from them. Ironically, at a time like today, when our country is fiercely divided and awash with people trying to lie and manipulate us, this is what our country needs most desperately. To understand the intricacies of the problems and hardships faced by all kinds of Americans so we may move forward in solving these issues. 

That is why I see hope in this generation. We have not only created time and space to understand each other more accurately, but we see the importance this serves to a society. Perhaps the next generation of leaders will encompass these ideals, whether liberal or conservative, and will use them to help the nation to the best of their ability. 

(Hannah McLeod lives in Waynesville and graduated in May from Appalachian State University. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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