In these dishearteningly contentious times, nothing discourages me quite like people using vulgarity, especially the F Bomb’s distressingly and progressively commonplace use. When strangers use it, however, you can block their posts, or pass by them when they curse on their cell phones.
But it particularly deflates me when people I know, like, respect, and admire use the F bomb or other profanity in public spaces.
Of course, the large majority of us are profane when we suffer an accident or injury, or someone else’s fecklessness or thoughtlessness aggravates us or our own stupidity or foolishness hurts or offends others.
We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t profane. As a Catholic, however, I believe all should aspire toward holiness. But we won’t progress up Jacob’s Ladder by eschewing or repressing the vulgar. To be fully human and become holy, we must reconcile the sacred and the banal in our hearts and the world.
We shouldn’t, however, abandon our mutual understanding of what language is acceptable in civil society, but an unfortunate cultural shift has eroded our sense of what’s acceptable.
When you go to the movies, or turn on HBO, it feels as if they pay screenwriters by the F bomb.
While employing profanity is sometimes the only way a writer can portray how their characters authentically speak and think, in my humble estimation, writers should use this language only when it’s precisely the right word to use, and other choices have been exhausted.
Too many screenwriters depend upon foul language because they’re too lazy to find the right word to amplify their characters’ emotions. A facile way to grab viewers’ attention, this language, however, is so prosaic listeners are inured to its coarsening.
Instead, audiences expect and welcome the harsh vernacular because it provides them a cheap, vicarious thrill. This cultural osmosis encourages many to speak publicly as though they were characters in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
The reality of everyone having a platform to broadcast our views amplifies people’s use of coarse language. Many clamor to be heard, and trying to be outlandish and provocative, they drop the F bomb.
Emboldened, they employ it deliberately and indiscriminately, without any regret or shame, which erases our mutual sense: this kind of speech should be expressed spontaneously, inadvertently, and to our regret, and occasional shame.
People consequently use that word cavalierly. It can mean: anger, desire, contempt, and astonishment, among other emotions. Absent reflection, many don’t fully appreciate the F Bomb’s harsh intent: reducing romantic love’s most profoundly, intimate expression to a violent, unfeeling, immediately, selfishly gratifying transaction.
The F Bomb’s application then is emotional violence, which assaults and degrades the people who hear it and degrades the people who speak it. That word’s use also erodes our society’s rapidly deteriorating comity.
Foul language also inflames the hostility, which prompts many to take cheap shots at others, whose behavior they don’t like.
This kind of language also stokes and exacerbates other kinds of violence: domestic, road rage, and workplace. And the F Bomb’s liberal employment helps create a mindset, which emboldens some to harass and assault others sexually.
It’s simplistic to suggest eliminating the F Bomb’s use will, by itself, reverse our society’s pervasive and distressingly increasing violence. But we can, at least, become more mindful about how our speech impacts others. Instead of dehumanizing them, before we speak we should contemplate our common humanity.
As God’s children, all possess indispensable dignity yet as humble sinners, all need God’s love, grace, mercy, and help to sustain them. To lead meaningful lives, all want: good health, jobs, homes, schools, families, and to live peacefully with their neighbors.
Our awareness of what unites us will sharpen our empathy, and spur us to speak more carefully and thoughtfully.
This behavior should discourage our society’s mean-spiritedness, which sees people who disagree with us as our enemies. And reducing this hostility should, I hope, increase dialogue, which encourages us to find common ground on the issues that divide us and solutions to our most pressing problems.
More committed to mutual respect and the common good, not only will we strengthen our society’s civility, we will move toward the solidarity, which recognizes, as Dr. King wrote: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a seamless garment of destiny.”
Amid the great fractiousness, which sadly marks our days, to heal the chasms, which unfortunately separate us, nothing is more than important than to reclaim the sense: we are brothers and sisters in the same human family.
Instead of tearing each other down, by elevating our language, we can lift each other up. In that way, we can bless others instead of cursing them.