by Melodie Davis
for release July 7, 2000
When Good People Should Know Better
I needed to give my just-turned-six niece a ride. Anna headed toward the middle seat of our mini-van, but I thought she should ride up front with me. I opened the front door and encouraged her to get in the front seat.
But she inspected the dashboard. "Are there air bags in there?" she asked suspiciously.
I admitted that yes, sure, there were.
"Well then I can't sit here," she said matter-of-factly. Why of course she wasn't supposed to sit in a front seat with air bags. She had been well-taught, and since I don't have small children anymore, I had forgotten this newer safety rule.
Shame on me. Shame on many of us as adults when our kids bring us up short. I was watching TV with a bunch of eighth grade girls. A preview for a movie came on which screamed that it was about sex, and lots of it. The ad finished by saying it was PG-13. "Yeah that sounds like a PG-13 movie," one of them said sarcastically. I cheered silently. Maybe we need our kids telling the movie producers what kinds of movies they would really like to see. Decent entertaining themes for teenagers, but without all the profanity and gratuitous sex. How often have you said of a movie, "Well, they really wouldn't have had to put that scene in there."
I had to think about that when I came across information on a new book called Cuss Control: How to Curb Your Cursing (Three Rivers Press/Random House). This is not from a religious publisher mind you, it is written for anyone regardless of whether they are religious or not-and for that reason perhaps more people will pay attention and listen to it.
Sometimes we who are religious are too timid when it comes to people cursing-not wanting to be thought prudish, old fashioned or out of it. The author of the book, James V. O'Connor felt that our society has turned into one big locker room of gutter talk. So he founded The Cuss Control Academy (www.cusscontrol.com) and offers these common sense explanations of why he's on a personal campaign to get people to rethink their swearing habits. "It gives a bad impression, makes you unpleasant to be with, endangers relationships, it's a tool for whiners and complainers, it reduces respect people have for you, shows you don't have control, it's immature and reflects ignorance." It is kind of interesting that someone has to point out the reasons swearing is bad.
He further says that swearing contributes to the decline of civility in society, representing the dumbing down of North America; it can turn discussions into arguments, and lead to violence. "It's not just the words, it's the attitude between the words," says O'Connor. "We just keep getting more hostile, more aggressive, more abrasive and more belligerent." How can this be good for maintaining a civil society?
But what I like best is his list of how it corrupts the English language: he says it's abrasive, lazy language; doesn't communicate clearly; neglects more meaningful words; lacks imagination and it has lost its effectiveness.
I have often thought about the common expletive which refers to an intimate, loving relationship. Why is that term used as the ultimate put-down? Unless it is referring to rape, then how can the term actually be a put down since it refers to a supposedly loving, positive experience. The expletive, if taken literally, is meaningless.
Thankfully O'Connor doesn't stop with reasons cursing is bad and gives us some tips for taming the tongue. He says a start is to recognize that swearing does damage (to you and others). Start by working on casual swearing: most often it becomes a habit in certain situations. Use alternative words, and make your point politely. He says instead of cussing, practice being more patient.
Like my opening illustration when I needed to be reminded of the dangers of front seat airbags for small children, sometimes we need to be reminded of the dangers of an untamed tongue. A verse in the New Testament book of James sounds an awful lot like Mr. O'Connor, "If you can control your tongue, you are mature and able to control your whole body." (James 3:2).
What do you think? Send opinions to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 720 words; end material = 105 words
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