I begin with a declaration: “I am not the language police.”
It always amuses me when people curse or swear and then apologize to me. I typically say, “Hey, it’s your mouth and your heart, no need to apologize to me.” I know having a member of the clergy around puts some people on edge.
A number of years ago when I used to golf, I totally ruined a game for a man who was teamed up with me. Once he found out what I do for a living he quit swearing and never made another decent shot the entire round.
I have no interest in being the language police, but I am concerned about the noticeable language drift that has occurred recent years. Profanities reserved for truckers and drill sergeants in years past echo from the lips of those occupying the highest offices today. Perhaps it never was any different, that it is just the heightened media exposure of our day that makes it seem worse, but there appears to be no attempt to control language in any arena.
A while back, together with my wife, I attended an NHL game. Cost and time combine to make outings like that very special events, however by the time the game was half over, we were ready to leave. It was good hockey but a number of patrons seated behind us insisted on using such profanity it sucked the joy out of the experience.
I should insert that although I am a pastor, I am far from sheltered and not easily offended by bad words. I did spend almost 11 years on the street and in cell block as an auxiliary cop. I’ve heard my share of bad language, but this was over the top.
When I asked if they’d mind toning down the language in deference to my wife, I was challenged to fight. That would have made for interesting headlines.
The experience caused me to question the widespread belief that we are all entitled to speak however we choose in any setting. Language is not impotent. It is powerful and impactful and its effect deserves careful consideration.
With minimal effort, I came up with four consequences of our words. Two would be best avoided, two embraced.
The first result emerged from the above described NHL game experience. The best way to describe the language of those patrons is that it pollutes. It is foul, filthy, unfiltered, undignified and offensive to anyone with a sense of dignity.
It has unfortunately also saturated our culture. To be sure using that kind of language in public says more about the person using it than anything else but it also degrades and pollutes the environment for anyone within hearing range.
The second consequence is more serious. It describes language that demeans. This type of speaking is not just filthy, it is damaging. It puts down individuals and groups of people indiscriminately. It judges motives, competence and future achievement of people without a shred of evidence to support it. I consider the use of this type of language by political leaders to be one of the saddest commentaries on the state of current society.
It is unfathomable to me that leaders can engage in this kind of belittling and demeaning language with impunity.
It is imperative that parents be incredibly cautious with this type of language. The damage it can inflict on their children is almost irreparable. Fathers who call their sons stupid or useless, or who call their daughters slutty, often have no idea the damage they are causing.
Fortunately there is language of another kind. The third consequence of language is one to be used with great intentionality. It is language that affirms. It is speech that doesn’t simply use nice words, but which possesses the insight and thoughtfulness to use words that specifically affirm and build others up. You can readily identify individuals who have mastered this kind of speech. You love to be around them. They make you feel better about life, better about the weather, better about yourself. They notice what is right with you and right with the world and place their focus there.
The final consequence is, in my opinion the apex of language. It is language that inspires. This kind of speech doesn’t just make you feel better, it calls you higher. It paints pictures of a better future and moves you to aspire to achieve it.
I have long maintained that I’m not the language police and that people shouldn’t be overly sensitive about how they speak around me. I am beginning to re-think that. Perhaps we all need to be a whole lot more sensitive about how we speak around everyone.