Why I am Not a Minimalist

For years I used to admire the concept of minimalism.  Whenever I entered a room that was uncluttered, functional, aesthetically pleasing and devoid of “things” I longed to live in such rooms myself.  I even described myself as a minimalist for a while, hoping that the label would imprint itself on my brain and change my ways.  I still sigh longingly when I find myself in a minimalist environment, for I yearn for an environment in which chaos does not prevail.

Try as I might however, I cannot bend myself into the shape of a minimalist.  I love “things”.  Not for their material value, but for their sentimentality, their ability to ground me during times of uncertainty, their feel, their stories, their normality.  Having a Labrador with a rudder-like tail means that “things” come and go, and most weeks I find myself scooping up broken pottery or glass.  Although I often feel a tinge of sadness to see one of my treasures consigned to the bin, I do not set any store by it.  My “things” are earth-bound, and as such they do not have intrinsic value. 

The real negative when you like having curios around you is that it’s a great effort keeping your environment tidy.  When I get to the point where I cannot cross the floor of my lounge without risking breaking my neck, my heart sinks and sometimes I just sit on top of the chaos for days.  I’d like to blame the mess on Trudy, but in truth we’re as bad as each other.  While she’s emptying her toy basket all over the floor I am hunting for an important piece of paper and in doing so strewing possessions here there and everywhere.  If ever a television crew needs someone to recreate a first-class burglary scene, then I am the woman to do it!

I know when it’s time to take action because my visitors are forced to sit on foldable picnic chairs as there is nowhere to sit.  (Chairs will have been turned into tables at this point).  This means an emergency blitz is called for.  Blitzing my flat is a necessary part of my life and I probably have to undertake this unenviable task four times a year.  It can take weeks to sort through what I wish to keep and what I should have discarded three months ago.  Usually the black bin bags contain papers and magazines, but occasionally I sift through my “things” and manage to fill a bag destined for the charity shop.  There are some possessions which just become old hat and no longer have a place in my life. 

Order is something that bothers me when I do not have it.  I get annoyed when I lose things and resent wasting time searching for proverbial needles in giant haystacks.  Having a sight impairment makes losing things commonplace.  Here I can name and shame Trudy for her part in separating my gloves, hiding various items of clothing, walking off with keepsakes and sometimes eating up bits of paper and creating an interesting carpet Collage.  But I contribute to the chaos too.  My recent bout of depression necessitated the most mammoth blitzing my flat has ever seen.  I stopped performing everyday tasks such as washing up, recycling junk mail and putting away laundry.  So my flat quickly became a living rubbish site, which would depress the most optimistic person.  It became unbearable to the point where I would find excuses to be elsewhere.  I started hating my flat, and wanted nothing more than to find somewhere else to live.

At this point where chaos was not fun any more, I had to take matters in hand and regain some order in my life.  In my head I had a clear vision of what I wished my environment to be like, and I began to work at creating an infrastructure which would help me maintain everyday organisation.  So I bought storage boxes and bags, files and folders, and began painstakingly sorting through the heap of chaos.  As the piles of papers dwindled and a path appeared in the centre of my lounge, my spirits slowly started rising.  I’m trying to find a set place for everything, so that even if I have days where the burglars revisit, I can put my “things” back in their proper place once my unwanted guests have been chased away.

Some people might wonder why I don’t just get rid of all my “things” to make life simpler.  Occasionally I have done so, but inevitably my environment fills up again with oddities and quirky ornaments that make me smile.  Despite not being able to see colours I have a very vivid colour-based imagination, and this manifests itself in my environment. I do not worry about things matching or co-ordinating, as long as they have meaning.  I do not like having “things” for the sake of having them.  In fact I could name all my assortment of objects and explain what they mean to me.  My environment is an expression of my life so far.  I have things which were given to me as a child, souvenirs from local and far away places, as well as objects which have been loved by others before me. 

Once or twice an onlooker has summed up my environment as “junk” – and it may well appear so.  But as human beings we all have different likes and dislikes, and to me my junk is very precious.

So I’ve come to realise that my yearning for minimalism is actually a yearning for organisation.  A tidy (albeit lived-in) environemt frees up your head and creates a healthy springboard for your day.  My new infrastructure has not been tested yet, but I’m hoping it will withstand the next onslaught of burglars not to mention the everyday habits of resident human and Labrador.

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I Fought Apathy – AND I WON!

Apathy.  An insidious enemy.  It creeps up on you when you’re unaware, and then steals your ambition.  Apathy means you don’t take action even

Apathy

Image by tuxthepenguin84 via Flickr

though you have a voice in your head saying “Just do it”.  Apathy makes it acceptable to sit back and watch.  Apathy leads you away from the frontline and takes you into a world where nothing matters enough to fight for.  Apathy blurs your sense of right and wrong.  Apathy lets you dwindle into the everyday, and it tricks you into thinking that the mundane is momentous.

Apathy has been slowly smothering me for a while.  Last night I met it face to face and saw it for what it was.  Catching it off guard it had no pleasant mask to hide its ugliness, no excuses at the ready to make everything OK, and no tricks to fool me.  I so nearly succumbed to it that I consider myself to have had an extremely lucky escape. 

Apathy was telling me that it was fine not to go to Worcester University today.  Despite having fought to get a place on the Recruitment and Selection Training Course I convinced myself that getting there was too much of an effort.  I was comfortable with the idea of staying at home and pottering.  The excuses came tumbling in.  First it was public transport – too hard.  Then it was my lack of energy – how can I get up early, negotiate trains and buses and be expected to contribute to the group?  Next it was my self-esteem – they probably didn’t want me there anyway, and I’d be rubbish.  And believe it or not the weather came into it.  Too wet and windy.  It’s far easier to snuggle up in my warm flat and stay safe.  Apathy – you’re a crafty saboteur!

So why did I go?  The “Should I?/ Shouldn’t I?” battle went on until the early hours of this morning.  I was poised to ring in sick, but then something tripped a switch in my brain and my thinking pattern changed course.  What the hell was I playing at?  I’ve wanted this for a year, I know full well that completing this two-day course will open new doors for me, I have travelled to Worcester before and come back alive.  Apathy – I WILL NOT LET YOU WIN!  I began listening to the voice which was telling me I’d be proud of myself tonight if I forced myself to go through with it.  Apathy’s voice still nagged away lying to me that it was better to stay at home and not bother.  

As I pelted to the bus stop uncomfortably short of time, I could still hear Apathy piping up that if I missed the bus I should feel pleased that I’d made the effort in the first place.  I might even be justified in “patting myself on the back”.   Of course there was Action’s voice informing me that there was a train I could catch which would get me to Worcester in time.  I arrived at the bus stop with a bedraggled Trudy (the rain was spitting on us contemptuously all the way) and we both stood there panting and feeling miserable.   The dark grey sky was rationing out its beams of light so that the dismal atmosphere was intensified.  The wind relentlessly thrusted rain shards into our skin.  Apathy beckoned me home. 

I was two minutes late, and there was no sign of any bus.  Had I missed it?  I secretly hoped so.   I waited a further seven minutes before giving Trudy the “Forward” command to head back home.  But she refused to move.  Trudy had spied the bus rumbling towards us with “Adventure” billowing from its engine.  I could have cried with relief.  Trudy and I had beaten Apathy, and I was almost tempted to wave as we left it behind to get soaked in the rain.

As I had hoped, the Training day was incredibly worthwhile.  Trudy behaved herself on and off duty and won several hearts with those Labrador eyes of hers.  I felt part of the group and we had some refreshingly heated discussions about Equality and Diversity.  They were the kind of discussions that thrill you and set off firework sparks in your head – the kind Apathy detests.  Coming home on the train I felt truly exhausted to the point where I wondered if I would be able to walk across the platform at Hereford Railway Station.  Yet with the exhaustion was a satisfaction that still has not left me, for knowing that I fought Apathy and won has given me extra strength.

I have learned today (better late than never) that surrendering to Apathy is turning your back on Adventure.  Apathy might appear to be safe and neutral, but in fact it is toxic and suffocating.  Apathy will snuff out the flame of life inside you and dull your identity so that you forget who are are and why you are here.

English: Hereford Railway Station

Image via Wikipedia

Metal Mama and Me

Metal Mama is the affectionate name I have given to the mammogram machine in Hereford County Hospital.  Mysterious and rather noble, she maintains the throne in the X-ray room and no one has yet challenged her supremacy.   She is unyielding, dispassionate and cold to the touch. She stares in stoney silence as you stand before her, watching your every move with an air of feigned patience. Then  she takes your breasts in her metal hands and squashes them each in turn.  Occasionally, she’ll whisper to the radiologist that you have cancer.    So would you be surprised if I tell you that Metal Mama and I are as good as mates? 

When I first met up with her a year ago I did not know what to expect.  I did not know I had cancer, I did not know that despite Metal Mama attempting to crush my breasts I would not actually feel pain.  I went in to the palatial chamber fearful and naive.  Metal Mama did nothing to allay my anxieties, and in fact she may have made them more acute.  She was too shiny, too perfect, too supercilious by far.  And that metal gleam of hers highlighted my own mortality.  The fact that I had to remove my bra and T-shirt was a huge ordeal back then.  It did not occur to me that Metal Mama and her radiographer side-kicks have seen hundreds of shapes and sizes passing as women.  But there was so much I didn’t know then.  Almost exactly a year ago.

To be perfectly honest I was not relishing my reunion with Metal Mama today.  I remembered her hard stare, her cold grasp, her chilling verdict.  She held my fate in her steely hands, and she always will do.  I cannot think of her without some part of me shuddering.  Today I had my trusted  hound Trudy with me and she  accompanied me into Metal Mama’s chamber.  She had a sniff around the regal feet, but decided that the bin in the corner smelt more interesting so pitter-pattered off in that direction.  Thanks Trudy!  I  faced Metal Mama alone whilst The Hoover hoovered quietly nearby.  Unlike me, Metal Mama was no different from last year.  She was still iron-hard and ice-cold, no-nonsense and no-frills.  Yet as she was no longer a complete stranger I felt relatively at ease.  Today Metal Mama and I had an understanding. 

I smiled at the fact that today I was able to stand topless before Metal Mama without blushing scarlet.  When you have breast cancer, one thing you quickly learn is that you have to order your inhibitions to move aside and shut up.  I have learned to forget that it is me with no T-shirt on. Me automatically goes to the back of my head when I’m in a hospital environment.  Metal Mama could have told me that a year ago.

But it does not pay to be cocky.  Last year each X-ray courtesy of Metal Mama was painless (albeit slightly uncomfortable).  Today’s experience therefore came as a shock.  When Metal Mama clamped the breast which has undergone surgery and radiotherapy,  I nearly shot to the ceiling with the pain that sliced through me.  But it was short-lived.  Metal Mama’s hugs are never longer than about 30 seconds, thank God.     Four hugs (two on each breast) and she’s usually done with you.  And here came the second unwanted surprise of the day.  Metal Mama took my offer of friendship literally.  She spat out one of the X-ray images and called me back for one extra hug – the one that hurt most of all. 

Last year I received Metal Mama’s verdict the same day, as I was seeing the Consultant straight afterwards.  This time I have to wait between a week and ten days for the results.  It’s quite weird knowing that Metal Mama knows already if I’m clear of cancer or not.  She has my image imprinted on her mechanical brain.  I’d love to be able to meet her for a drink in Wetherspoon’s and get her to divulge the results after a triple Vodka.  Then Metal Mama might roll along Commercial Road spilling all her secrets throughout High Town.  I have a picture of her crashed out in a metal heap, turning up for work later with a thumping hangover and being fired for breaking the code of conduct.  But she’s far too professional.

Back to reality.  I’m all set for an impatient ten days, wondering what Metal Mama has seen and what she will tell.

Video of a mammogram http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mammogram/MM00639

Information about mammograms and breast cancer http://cancerhelp.cancerresearchuk.org/type/breast-cancer/about/screening/mammograms-in-breast-screening

Breast Cancer Care Charity http://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/

Dogs or Antidepressants?

I have not tended my Blog for a while because I’ve been waiting for a decidedly dark cloud to lift from my mind.  It is taking its time – so much so that I have decided to wait no longer.  This time of year has always stirred up a malevolent host of demons in my world.  The darkening evenings actually seem to suck the life out of me, and I feel myself sinking into hopelessness.  Real sink or swim stuff.  Yet here I am, still alive enough to write.

When all is well I throw myself into daily life  – making plans, embarking on courses, committing to dates and appointments, acting on ideas.  Then depression strikes and within days all my excitement has died.  I can feel the demon’s claw seizing my spirit and attempting to strangle it.  Suddenly I cannot go out, I want to shut myself away from my friends, I lose the motivation to do the simplest tasks, and slowly things begin to fall apart.

So where does Trudy fit into this?  My black and white choice is to find somebody to look after her while I wallow in misery, or to stumble onwards and continue caring for her myself.  Unable to part with her, I’ve chosen to keep things as they are.  The upshot is that I have   to continue with a daily routine for Trudy’s sake.  That means getting  up at the usual time to feed her and take her outside for her “busy busy”.  More often than not I meet a neighbour and we spend a few minutes engaging in chit-chat.   Having a bouncy Labrador makes it impossible to hide away from the outside world.   Thanks to Trudy, the skeleton of my normal routine has remained intact. 

I have learned to lower my expectations during times of low mood.  My current goal is to survive this rather bleak period and to continue to look after Trudy – not because I have to, but because I want to.  The love I have for Trudy makes me glow inside, and even when my mood is dark and I can’t feel the warmth from that glow I know it’s still there.  When Trudy bounds over after I’ve popped out for a few minutes, I can feel the glow stirring, and it gives me hope.  Trudy is a gift, and the bond we have is a gift.  Being on the receiving end of the unconditional love which just spills out of Labradors is very precious. 

One of the great things about dogs is that they are so tangible.  Trudy’s warm, soft fur has an instant feel-good effect – and that’s before I get to the silky ears, and the wagging tail.  Research has proved that stroking animals can increase the levels of serotonin in the brain.  In addition it can boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and decrease pain.  This is why there is an increasing number of Therapy dogs being assigned to hospices and retirement homes.  In fact when I have visited such places myself in my capacity as a Speaker, I have witnessed the positive effects that Trudy has had on some of the patients.  Trudy is synonymous with Life.  Just being around her makes life livable.

Perhaps her ability to inject humour into my bleakest moments is the thing that strikes me most.  If Trudy wants to play hide and seek with items from my laundry basket, she won’t take no for an answer no matter how depressed I feel!  And the fast-beating thump of her tail has such an upbeat rhythm that my mouth smiles without me even thinking about it.  Then there are the numerous feats of Labrador mischief that prove to me how priceless Trudy is, and before long I realise that I’m actually glad to be alive.  Sometimes I surprise myself by my own spontaneous laughter – thanks to Trudy.   Trudy ignites hope inside me, and hope is what stops people from drowning.

So despite the waves of gloom which permeate my days at the moment, I have the means to stay grounded, focussed and connected with other people.  When I’m in the park with Trudy, fellow walkers see the hurtling Labrador before they see me.  Even when they notice me and we strike up a conversation they are unaware of my inner struggle.  This in itself is a true bonus.     Antidepressants can set right the chemical imbalances in your brain, but having a dog like Trudy is a reason for living and thriving.  Merely wanting to look after a dog takes your thoughts away from your own troubles.  Actually having a dog reduces those troubles to the bare minimum.   Trudy’s role as a Guide dog at this time is secondary to her therapeutic role.  The very fact that she gives me so much makes me determined to do what I can for her.  This has prevented me from caving in on myself.

Trudy provides me with so much more than freedom and mobility.  I know she understands me as I do her, and it feels like we’re joined together by something magical.  She is not just part of my life, she has become part of me.

 Hetty is Britain’s first dual Guide dog and Seizure Alert dog http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/news/uks-first-dual-guide-dog-and-seizure-dog-graduates-with-new-owner/

Children with autism and OCD benefit from assistance dogs  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/giving/11DOGS.html?_r=2&partner=TOPIXNEWS&ei=5099

Therapy dogs in Psychiatric services http://drdeborahserani.blogspot.com/2010/10/therapy-service-dogs.html

Standing Still

Standing still.  Stopping.  Preserving your energy.  Feeling at peace.  Feeling fear.  Paralysed.  Deep in thought.  Stuck.  Lost.  Exhausted.  Inhaling freedom.  Taking stock.  Musing.  Listening.  Planning.   Having a break.  Hiding.  Waiting.  Dying.  Observing.  Falling in love.  Smiling.  In pain.  Breathing.  Arresting.  Inspired.  Confused.  Reflecting,  Enraptured.  Stunned.  Intoxicated.  Numb.  At a loss.  Wondering.  Sniffing.  Holding.  Being held.  Reaching safety.  Panicking.  Eating.  Wounded.  Grounded.  Crying.  Standing still.

Standing still is life and death.  It sharpens our senses and calms our minds.  It intensifies our emotions and shuts down our defenses.  It is survival and capture.  It is both passive and active.   Standing still marks the beginning and the end.  It involves feeling and thinking.  It is when we take control but also when we give up.  Standing still has a kaleidoscope of meanings.

Today I stood still and waited for a dog’s teeth to bite into my skin.  It had iron legs and its breath was baking hot.  I covered my head and stood still while it pranced around me growling and snapping.  Its doorstop paws imprinted themselves on my chest.  I was gripped by fear.  Time stood still with me, but it was not my ally.  I waited for the first stab of pain.  I could hear my heart thumping in my ears and I smelt death.  

But the dog did not bite me.  In the end it scampered away, and I felt the comforting presence of Trudy by my side.  My gentle Labrador brushed away my terror.  I inhaled the biscuit-scent of her fur and sighed with relief.  Slowly my panic subsided and I lowered my hand to stroke Trudy’s silk-purse ears.  As I stood still she licked my fingers and the familiar roll of her tongue dispelled my remaining anxieties.

After a moment Trudy moved away to investigate something new.  Although she was nearby and I could hear the jingling of her collar-bells, I was conscious of my vulnerability. Motionless,  I listened for danger, and jumped as a group of people walked by calling their dog.  I prepared myself for attack, but nothing happened.  They greeted me warmly, so I smiled.  We briefly exchanged doggy-talk which made me chuckle.  Then Trudy came bounding back to me when she spied me retrieving a tit-bit from my pocket.                  

Minutes later I was alone again but this time I felt at peace.  The strong breeze rushed through me refreshing my lungs and making me feel glad to be alive.  Standing still I reflected upon my transformation.  I seemed to have travelled along the spectrum of thoughts and emotions.  Each of my senses had been stretched to the limit.

It could have turned out very differently.  I cannot say whether my fear was justified but I know my head was clanging with danger claxons.  In Life’s great scheme this was a minor event, yet it has made me even more conscious of my desperate fight for survival.  Standing still has enabled me to consider just who I am and where I am heading.  It has reminded me that I am human.  I cannot control my fate, yet I can control my actions.

I Love Aylestone Park

There is a park in Hereford which is four minutes walk away from my flat.  This park comprises two large fields/meadows, a canal, an orchard and a gravel path which snakes its way round in an irregular loop.  The trees are fairly sparse so it always feels breezy, and on a day like today there is a good chance that hat-wearers would go home hatless.  Over the past few months I have become indebted to this open space known as Aylestone Park.  As I feel the wind seize my hair by its roots and flutter against my face I can’t help feeling moved, for I am in no doubt that I am in the presence of something beyond words.   This presence stirs, and seems to manifest itself in the tumbling wind.  When I stand still in Aylestone Park I feel bonded to nature, I feel humbled by the elements, I feel mortal, I feel free.
Simply by rooting myself to the ground I am reassured.   The earth still breathes and moves beneath me but my feet are still.  My mishmash of worries becomes lighter, and my restless spirit starts to calm.   Hope revives herself within me.  I love this park because it has not been unduly tampered with.  There are no landscaped flowerbeds and no ornamental ponds guarded by stone goddesses.  Humans have their rightful place, as does the long grass, and the scuttling mammals.  Dogs bound everywhere, sniffing out the mole hills and splashing in the canal.  Some people find Aylestone Park “boring” because it is themeless and its only “facility” is a large car park.  But to me this park is freedom itself.  Just planting myself in the lower field and allowing the wind to absorb me breaks open the ties which bind my spirit.  I feel so fortunate to have such freedom.
Trudy my Guide dog adores this park.  It gives her freedom too, as here is where she sheds her harness and tears around being a Labrador.  This time of year she goes scrumping in the orchard and I’m often showered with leaves as her snout sends them flying into the air.  All I can hear is the rustling of twigs and leaves as Trudy pursues the myriad scents which arouse her snout.  She befriends two or three pet dogs every time we visit, and eagerly joins in their games.  If I take her to the canal she throws herself into the brown-blue water and doggy-paddles back to me snorting like a pig.  The snorting is even louder if she’s carrying something in her mouth, and little jets of water spurt out of her nostrils.  Sometimes a regular group of dog-walkers whom I’ve nicknamed “the Labrador Convention” arrives at the canal and Trudy mingles with the black, yellow and chocolate Labradors teasing and chasing them.  She steals their frisbees and dives in after their treats.  She is in Labrador paradise.  When it’s time to go Trudy pretends not to hear the whistle and I have to use all my cunning and skill to lure her back to me.  Even with her smelly water-logged fur I am relieved when she comes lolloping back.

We amble back home through the tall stems of prickly grass, Trudy is usually munching weeds or thrusting her snout into the hedgerows.  Before I put her back on harness we often stand for a few more minutes savouring our freedom.  I turn my face towards the wind and feel it tussle my hair.  I inhale its freshness and allow all my anxieties to melt into the air.  They disperse like paper petals.  Trudy has a final nose-dive and then drums her tail against my legs ready for the four-minute stroll home.  I never leave the park with an ounce of stress or fear lingering.  This magical place renews and invigorates me.  It makes life seem even more precious, and I arrive home eager to make the most of everything I have.

How correct is Political Correctness?

“A man cannot be politically correct and chauvinist too”.  Toni Cade’s “A Black Woman” (1970) is the first printed reference to Political Correctness in this sense.  In fact,  Political Correctness was deliberately developed as a political tool by the US political parties in the 1970’s.  So how has it changed our society, and is it time for Political Correctness to be modified or put back into context?

In the UK Political Correctness has greatly influenced our terminology and language.  In many ways this has had a positive effect.  Terms previously used to describe disabled people or those from ethnic minorities are now rightly recognised as unacceptable.  It seems almost inconceivable that when I was at Oxford in 1988 I was called a “handicapped student” by the authorities.  As attitudes have changed, so has the law.  The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and subsequently the Equality Act 2010 have made it illegal in the UK to discriminate on grounds of race, disability, sexual orientation or gender.

Unfortunately Political Correctness has been interpreted so rigidly by some Corporate and Management organisations that it has often led to resentment and ridicule.  An example of this is the infamous case in 2002 when the Home Office Minister of the time, John Denham, was criticised by the police for using the term “nitty-gritty” because it apparently alluded to the slave era.  This was during a debate in Bournemouth at the Police Federation conference.  Apparently police could face disciplinary charges for using this term, and some rank-and-file officers stated that the rules around language were a “minefield” and at times inhibited them from speaking.  This type of high-profile incident always sparks off heated debates about free speech and censorship.  Ordinary people often feel annoyed that corporate regulations and government mandates inhibit free speech.  The Big Brother State is repellent to most minds, and the majority of people have strong opinions about what we should and should not be allowed to do and say.

Following a Channel 4 programme Dispatches in February 2011, in which the term “kaffir” was discussed in detail, Nesrine Malik wrote an interesting article about where to draw the line between the right to exercise free speech and the need to ban inciting and offensive language.
She states  that “language informs our attitudes as much as it reflects them”.  It is certainly true that the words we use influence the way we act towards different groups of people.
But Political Correctness filters into our everyday lives in other ways too.  Because many people are afraid of causing offense, they are often reluctant to approach a disabled person or to discuss controversial issues surrounding sexuality or race.  This can make it harder for people from diverse groups when they’re out and about.   Political Correctness has inadvertently created an invisible barrier which in effect is socially divisive.  I have encountered a whole range of attitudes throughout my life.  I have a cleft lip and palate which affects my speech and appearance, I am visually impaired and have used a long cane as well as a Guide dog, and I have experienced mental health issues which in the past have earned me labels.  I am relieved that nowadays people tend to think about what they are saying rather than coming out with expressions such as “handicapped” or “nutter”.  But it seems to have gone to the other extreme.  Many people are nervous about asking me questions.  This sometimes makes me feel quite isolated.   It has become acceptable for people to lower their eyes and move away rather than to confront a potentially awkward situation.   In this sense, Political Correctness has become a convenient concept for the general public to hide behind.
I would like to see rigid Political Correctness replaced by tact and sensitivity.  Basic awareness of other people and their feelings would go a long way towards improving social attitudes.  But even more importantly, open discussion and debate about controversial topics would break down many unnecessary barriers.  In my view, assumptions cause far more offense and problems than simple questions.   If someone asks me, “Do you need a hand?” or “How much can you see?” I am more than happy to answer, and I think I speak for many visually impaired people.   The problem occurs if that same person assumes that I don’t need any assistance because I’m with a Guide dog.  Then I can be stranded at the side of a busy road for minutes on end.  Yet I have lost count of the number of times people have told me they walked past because they did not want to cause offense by asking if I needed help.

Political Correctness has led to laws which uphold the rights of those with diverse needs.  But the down side of this is that many people from minority groups are more alienated because people are afraid to ask questions or make conversation.   Now that there are anti-discrimination laws in place, is it time to challenge the rigidity of Political Correctness and put it back into context?  Political Correctness is no justification for the human race morphing into ostriches with our heads permanently buried in sand.