“Words are alive. Cut them and they bleed.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
The spoken word has great power. The right word spoken at the right time can set amazing things in motion. But what about the wrong word?
Recently, I was at a high school sporting event and a young athlete, not playing his best and clearly frustrated, was receiving guidance from the sidelines.
Now of course, this young man’s mother meant well. But perhaps, to his ear, she yelled her advise a bit louder than he would have preferred. And perhaps her voice came in a bit louder and clearer, to him, than the voices of the other parents and coaches who were also chiming in that day. And perhaps, at that moment, he was a bit of a raw nerve.
Turning toward the sidelines, he blurted out, “Shut the f*** up,” making eye contact with the woman who had carried him inside her small body for nine long months…..the same woman who had spent the last 16 years planning every minute of every day around him and his well-being.
But here is one thing you need to know– This particular young man is NOT a street thug. He is NOT a gang member or a drop-out, degenerate, or cad. He is not a louse, scoundrel, rake, or a deadbeat.
In fact, this young man is pretty darn respectful most of the time. He is an upstanding member of his high school…. just a regular kid……a nice kid. And he comes from good stock.
So what the F*** happened?
Language is a powerful tool. And our choice of words can shape large and small histories. But many of us have a strange relationship with words.
On the one hand, we sometimes assign great weight and importance to certain words.
For example, if a husband blurts out “You are such a B*tch!” during an argument with his wife, we would all agree that one strategically placed word makes for a strong, powerful statement. That one word has the potential to bring hurt and resentment and leave destruction in its path.
But on the one hand, we often use otherwise powerful words in the most casual way.
“Can you please make your f***ing move?” a woman might say to her spouse, playfully, with raised eyebrows, and in front of a group of friends during board game night. After all, he always takes way too long on his turn, whether it is Scrabble or the Settlers of Catan!
“Holy Sh*t! I’m Irish!” you might announce on Facebook when Ancestry.com helps you discover that your people hailed from Dublin.
“Mother F***er!,” you might yell out to no one when you bang your head on a low beam in the basement.
OR — “”Hey B*tches!” -to your very best girlfriends….or your coworkers…or your sisters…or your aunts…or pretty much any group of females that you know and kinda like. I even know a woman who regularly refers to her daughter as “such a little b*tch.” Because everyone is fair game when women start tossing around curse words in the interest of friendship and camaraderie. Her daughter, by the way, just turned four.
But tonight, after watching a usually controlled and well-mannered young man suddenly F-bomb his own mother in front of a crowd, I got to thinking about the casual use of serious language in our culture.
Could the relaxed and off-handed use of the top five swear words be giving our young people a mixed message?
Of course we expect our young people to respect these powerful words and to use them sparingly, or not at all. Yet for many of us, we are not leading by example.
So here’s my simple advice – Let’s give these words a wider berth. Let’s steer clear. And unless the actual goal is shock and awe (and it’s usually not), let’s choose another noun or another verb.
Because when you toss these words around in casual conversation, they can suddenly and accidentally slip out at the most inopportune time, sometimes when you didn’t intend to use such a powerful word.
Just ask our teenage athlete.
But wait, we can’t ask him…..because I am pretty sure that he has lost his phone privileges, his internet privileges, and his socializing privileges. Grounded for the next year or so, he is probably living a secluded and monastic life.
So let’s all try harder to curb our tongues.
In the words of fantasy author Ben Galley: “You can’t hammer in a nail with words….No, but you can start a war with them.”
And in the words of Vanilla Ice: “Word to your Mother.”
But not THAT word, of course.
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