Progressives need to realize something. Our use of language is hurting our cause. At a time when the odds are stacked so highly against us, we need to seek every possible advantage. This is just common sense.
One of the biggest problems I see in how progressives are presenting their arguments, whether through confrontations on social media or signs presented at rallies, is their use of profanity and sexual innuendo. There are several reasons this is tactically unsound. First, if you’re in a public place brandishing a sign bearing the F-word, you’re not going to look bold and edgy, you’re going to look crass and self-centered. Children don’t need to see that sort of language, and many other people (on both sides) simply don’t want to. (I already know what arguments some of you are beginning to sputter, so give me a second to circle back to that.)
The second reason is you’re triggering a hot button for the opposition. If your agenda is to cause unrest, you’ll certainly do so, but if you’re hoping to persuade those on the fence to come over to our side, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Here’s why: just as fairness and protection are progressive values, moral purity is a conservative value. There’s no right or wrong to this; it’s basic psychology. If you want to influence a conservative in a positive way, the best thing you can do is respect their distaste for foul language and sexual references.
So back to the arguments and rationalizations. You don’t need to say a thing. I already know your objections: “They should grow a thicker skin.” “Well, maybe they need a wake-up call.” “They’re just words. I don’t see why everyone’s so damned sensitive.”
Let me explain something. Just because we don’t find a word or concept offensive doesn’t mean it’s a universal truth that this word or concept is benign. We don’t get to decide what someone else takes issue with, just like the conservatives don’t get to determine that taking offense to un-PC language is an overreaction. We’re the open-minded ones, right? The people who take pains to be tolerant and honor diversity? So why is it laudable to be tolerant of someone’s skin color or sexual orientation, but not their moral values? Conservatives have just as much right to their beliefs as anyone else. Swearing bothers them. Sexual language bothers them. If you want to have an effective dialog and influence their opinion, the place to start is by understanding their sensitivities and working within that framework. If you choose to use that language with your own people in your own territory, more power to you, but it’s not necessary or beneficial to wave it around in public. And no, we don’t get to point out the irony of the conservatives becoming the over-sensitive “snowflakes” they accuse us of being. Even in the alternative fact world of 2017, two wrongs still don’t make a right.
Really, there are only two reasons someone might oppose this strategy. One is a lack of awareness. You just haven’t thought about it, so you didn’t know any better. Now you know. Problem solved. The other is ego. You feel the conservatives should get over it, or the behavior of someone on their side justifies your less-than-honorable response. Guess what? It doesn’t matter how you feel about this. It’s not about you. Your actions are hurting the cause. Tuck your ego away, look at this from a logical, strategic perspective, and do what’s tactically advantageous.
We’re supposed to be the ones taking the high road. We’re supposed to be the ones demonstrating integrity, empathy, and respect. Let’s start acting like it. Think about your word choices and demonstrate a little common sense. As Sun Tzu said, “the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” We’d be wise not to give the Trump machine any more ammunition than it already has.