Intemperate Words Offend and Degrade Society
When it comes to our coarsening culture, many folks would trot out President Trump’s alleged intemperate remarks about s-hole countries during a recent discussion on immigration as exhibit A.
The only trouble with convenient whipping boys is they too often overlook a larger truth.
To isolate our president as the example of everything wrong with America is to ignore the habit of swearing and obscene language that has permeated society for years.
Witness the profanity-laced tirades against Trump that followed the tragic school shootings last month in South Florida.
Such folks can’t excuse their actions on the basis of what someone else did.
Swearing for Business
The outcome of this ever-lax stance towards language and acceptable behavior surfaced recently in a writers group I’m part of on LinkedIn.
A contributor to a trade publication commented, “I recently received an email from a PR person pitching me a story.
“The first sentence contained two four-letter words followed by a smiley. I’m not a prude—hardly—but I find this business discourse incredible.”
That brought an observation from another member: “Who’s teaching everyone? The answer is—the last generation of students. It seems that each successive generation of students is taught language skills at a lower standard.”
While it may be popular to denigrate the generations behind us, I think that comment ignores a bleaker issue: the lack of standards of decency in society as a whole.
That a PR person approaching a publication would think it is all right to sprinkle profanity into their story pitch shows how deeply this habit is ingrained.
I’ve written previously about the senators—including Democratic would-be presidential contender Kirsten Gillibrand—who find it permissible to use four letter words in public remarks.
It’s not surprising that many people pick up on the example, or lack thereof, set by leaders and others who should know better.
I see this seemingly-harmless habit as the verbal example of the “broken windows” theory.
You know, how the New York police started cracking down on minor offenses so culprits wouldn’t get the idea they could get away with major crimes.
Failure to set any standards or expectations when it comes to language encourages the “anything goes” ethic we see played out before us.
It also throws gasoline on the fire of the behavior underlying the gutter talk. Comedian George Carlin made great fun of the “seven words you could never say on television,” but there were good reasons for disallowing them.
The Spirit Behind Speech
That is the major problem with profanity: it’s never spoken in a spirit of love, decency, or uplifting others. It is used to attack, stereotype, degenerate, label, and intimidate others.
At a time when the #metoo movement has generated international attention, it is sad that we fail to recognize how offensive language is a fellow traveler. It is a practice that degrades people and lowers society’s standards of decency.
The answer isn’t passing a law that few would obey. It’s to recognize that each of us has a responsibility to eschew the kind of language we don’t want our children and grandchildren to learn.
We can also let those who use such talk know that we find it beneath their dignity. Nor would it hurt to vote with our pocketbooks by avoiding the PG-13 and R-rated swearathons that characterize too many movies.
As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.