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Of Triggers, Political Correctness, Personal Responsibility and Writers

personalresponsibilityRecently there’s been a lot of talk about triggers, political correctness and personal responsibility. I’m going to start with some definitions:

Triggers – sometimes also called “microagression,” the idea is someone can be harmed emotionally if they hear or read something that causes them to remember, perhaps quite vividly and even to the point of re-experiencing, a traumatic event. (Note: if you look up ‘trigger,’ as I did you’ll find most of the definitions are coupled with guns, and bombs – which may be appropriate. I made up the definition here.)

Political correctness – the first definition that shows up on Google at the moment is: “the avoidance, often considered as taken to extremes, of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” They also add the noun, “political correctitude,” which I wish I had made up.

Personal responsibility – I hate the first definition I found which is, in part: “…the willingness to both accept the importance of standards that society establishes for individual behavior…” This strikes me as more accurate: ” … a person’s “response-ability,” that is, the ability of a person to maturely respond to the various challenges and circumstances of life.”

Implications for writers and maybe the rest of the world

The first thing to notice is how squishy each of these definitions actually are. There’s no way to completely avoid triggers because for all I know someone might be triggered by a phrase like “left handed monkey wrench” or “isn’t it a lovely day.”

Political correctness is a bit clearer, although subject to all sorts of interpretation and misinterpretation. Raising consciousness about writing that disparages or marginalizes anyone is mostly a good thing I think. I work at it even though I do wonder if we’re loosing our ability to laugh at ourselves.

As far as personal responsibility goes, as a writer I have absolutely no way of knowing how my reader may feel about this or anything else.

Three sieves or filters

The Daily Kos has a nifty article called Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Those are, of course, a pretty decent guideline for how to write about almost anything. And it’s the third question, “Is it necessary?” that allows me to speak out against wrongs and protest against injustice.

The Declaration of Independence, just for example, was not exactly kind to the then King of England, but it was necessary to speak up to effect the needed change.

While I’m unlikely to draft such an important document and perhaps you won’t either, we can’t let fear of triggers or political correctness stop us from writing what’s necessary. We can keep it true, and express our differences with compassion, but speak up we must. We simply need to be reasonably sure what we’re writing is true, reasonably kind or compassionate and necessary. The ‘think’ acronym shown in the image is also a good way to judge our writing.

You might also enjoy reading 9 Tips for Starting a Profitable Sustainable Freelance Writing Business.

Write well and often,




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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • I had the same reaction as Cathy. Some days I feel that the first casualty in political discourse is truth.
    John McCoy recently posted..Ambitious and Stuck? Make It Work For YouMy Profile

    • hmmm, is there any political discourse any more? Or maybe I’m using too narrow a definition for discourse. I’m constantly surprised how it seems okay these days to tell lies in the news – everything from poor fact checking to down right lies are pretty much accepted in some, rather important, quarters. To say nothing of photoshopped photos and edited to deceive videos. Sigh.

  • Love the 3 filters. Boggles my mind how many steamroll right over Is it true?
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Stop Those Message-Undermining Dastardly DemonsMy Profile

    • Yes, you and I grew up in an era where we assumed news was true, at least most of the time, with pretty good reason. Today it seems, “question authority” has taken on whole new meanings.

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