A Conversation About Profanity

How do you feel about it?

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Photo by Asa Rodger on Unsplash

After writing a story on Medium about swearing, I received quite a bit of feedback, both publicly and in private.

My friend Jay Alexander sent me a message on Messenger about my article. Jay is honest to a fault and didn’t hold back:

I didn’t like it for several reasons.

First and foremost, it was elementary. Years ago, I may have shared your opinions and backed them up the same way. Living in the Philippines has changed me. I wasn’t always this way. I used to cuss often. In my head, I still cuss from time to time. The words just don’t leave my mouth.

One time, in 1983, I blurted out the f-word in public, in a post office box area. The military officer who heard me legally ordered the group of us airmen into his office. He started his butt-chewing by admitting he wasn’t certain who the guilty party was. I quickly cut him off by admitting my guilt. He chewed me out really good. I thought he was out of his mind, but over the years, I matured, and now I understand.

Cussing and communicating are not always the same. Swearing just out of habit demonstrates a serious lack of control. Expecting your daughter not to cuss, but it’s okay for you is nothing more than a double standard. Cussing is not a right of passage. It’s frowned upon in many settings — not just in church or temple. It’s frowned upon professionally. I doubt I would cuss in front of someone I was trying to impress like a future boss, a future father-in-law, my children, someone else’s kids, etc.

When I did cuss, it was okay for me to say some of George Carlin’s, “Sh$t, pi$$, fuc$, cun$, cocksucke$, motherfucke$, and ti$$,” but one of those words remained offensive to me for years and still sounds terribly wrong. Just like the N-word. Just like a number of words. Blame it on society what’s okay and what’s not.

But, I learned a great deal about myself working in juvenile hall. There, we were encouraged to communicate more professionally than in any other job. I still cussed, but controlled myself in front of my clients, the kids I was caring for at the time. I guess I was pretty good at maintaining that image. One time, I must have let my guard down and swore. A kid questioned me. He said he thought I never swore. I took it as a compliment. He taught me that his respect was based upon the fact I was good at controlling my language. It was never about religion or society as much as it was about communication, control and reflecting the same values I expected from my kids. I once knew a Colonel, an officer I respected more than any other. He called me a fuc$er in formation, until he noticed a lady standing near me and excused himself. He said, “that Airman Alexander is the sexual intercourse who answered ALL the questions right.” It was funny! Years later, I learned that he always got turned down for promotion to General because of his cussing. He was nicknamed “Trashmouth.” Too bad, he would have made an awesome General Officer.

Give it a try. Use other words instead of the very same words that would upset you if your daughter shouted them out. Develop control over what words you use.

Ask yourself, what would be the worst thing that would happen to you if you never cussed again? What image would you develop? Would people who either know you or don’t know you respect you any less or any more?

Expand your vocabulary. Practice self-control. Do it for a month and learn the value of speaking with decorum and control! You’ll be proud of yourself for an amazing accomplishment and a wonderful example for your child(ren) to follow!!!

BTW, how would you feel if you dropped the F-bomb portraying Santa in front of the children?!

When I got his message, I wasn’t at home. I read the text quickly and didn’t really get a sense of it. I was a little miffed because I felt like he was talking down to me. But, Jay is a good guy, and a friend, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt until I could sit down and absorb his message better.

I fired off a quick reply:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions, Jay. I love having a different perspective.

It must not have been what he was expecting. After all, he practically wrote me a book. I got this response from him:

Wow! That’s ALL I get from you? Weak. I worked hard on that response. Besides, you could easily tweak what I shared and submit it as an opposing viewpoint. Moreover, I was hoping you would see the sense of what I wrote as a new Father and do some soul searching. What person do you want him to see you as? Do it for your Kids Santa! It will be one of the most rewarding gifts you ever gave yourself!

I read this when I arrived home. I clearly didn’t give the response Jay wanted! I felt bad, but at the time there wasn’t much I could do. I finished some work and sat down and read his first response again:

Hey, Jay! Sorry…I was out and about and didn’t have the chance for a thoughtful response. But I wanted to say something, so you know I read it.

This has opened a lot of avenues of thought for me. I was just finishing up some work before I turn my attention to the subject! I didn’t mean to be weak!

Yours was a very strong opinion that I don’t entirely agree with, but it makes me think about how I feel about the subject. Others have given me feedback as well, but no one was as passionate as you. It deserves to be published.

I may be 50, but I in no way have everything I figured out. Do we ever know everything?

After I finished the work I was doing, I read his comment a third time, and then replied with this:

I just read your response for the third time since I got home. The first time I read it, I was upset because I thought you were just being negative. I read it quickly and didn’t get the meaning. After dinner, I read it again and understood. That is when I responded. I had to get some work done for the new publication for which I am an editor, so I didn’t think about it until you responded.

I just read it again and think it’s brilliant. As I said, I don’t agree 100%. I don’t attribute the power to those words that you do. Both of our opinions are based on our life experience and world view, so you have to expect they may be different. I am finding myself agreeing more and more, and I like what you said about trying out other words for a month.

Jay must have been having dinner because I didn’t hear from him for a while. I didn’t know if he was upset by my weak response, or he just had better things to do. Soon, I got this:

I left out some other key points to rebut one or more of your rationalizations. For example, how does anyone really know who is offended by profanity? And I’ve heard cussing by meaningless children that didn’t bother me. I’ve also heard hateful, destructive profanity that disgusted me, hurt me, and made me devalue entire relationships.

It was getting later, so I told him I would put all our comments together and let him see it before I published. I sent off one final comment:

You are a good friend, Jay. I’ve always respected people who will tell me the truth even if they don’t agree with me.

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Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

What I’ve learned

By being honest about his opinion, I started to see things in a different light.

While I don’t feel that using swear words makes you any less of a conversationalist, I do know that words carry power. I am a writer, after all. I can’t control how others who may see my words will react. To some, profanity is against everything they believe in.

Will I stop swearing altogether? I doubt it. I still feel that certain words convey feelings better than others. But I know I will be a little more careful where I use them.

I don’t swear very often. For me, it is usually to impress a point. I am careful about who hears the words I say and who reads what I write.

I don’t feel words should be off-limits (with a few exceptions like calling a woman the b-word and using the n-word anytime), and I don’t think using certain words is unprofessional. I like to challenge long-held beliefs. I know if everyone believed the same things that life wouldn’t hold any passion or spark.

But I will be the first one to speak out against racist or sexist language. Dropping the f-bomb to stress a point is neither.

What do you think about the topic? How do you feel about swearing and profanity? Leave a comment and let me know!

Thanks for reading!

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Writer | Essayist | Video Content Creator | Future member of the two-comma club | Dreamer - I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up.

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