Friday, February 16, 2018

Swearing, Profanity, and Cursing

Today, as Josh was making himself some toast he dropped the butter knife onto the floor and immediately exclaimed, "Sh*t!"  I looked up with surprise in time to hear him say it again three times with vehemence, "Sh*t, sh*t, sh*t!"

After surprise, came amusement.  After amusement, came pride.  My son was using an interjection in a contextually appropriate way!  Way to go, buddy!

As you may know, if you have read any of my other blog posts, Josh is not someone who has a lot going on in the way of expressing language.  In fact, his spontaneous (non-prompted) language falls generally in two categories; echolalia (random echoing of things that he has heard before without appropriate meaning or contextualization) and expressing simple needs or desires ("I want toast").

To have Josh use profanity appropriately with some amount of affect was kind of awesome!  At the same time, I wondered where exactly Josh picked this up.  Was it from us?  From school? From kids on the bus?  I wish I could say that I knew for sure that he must have had this modeled for him outside of our home but, alas, I cannot.  

In our early parenting years, when blow out diapers, interrupted baby naps, and finding people spreading poop on walls were a regular part of our lives, I noticed that Josh was much more likely to echo swear words that came out of my mouth than anything else.  Perhaps this was because they were accompanied with clear and passionate emotion.  

We've been talking a lot about swearing with our (6th grade) girls recently.  We've wondered together why swearing is supposedly bad.  I hate it when people just tell you not to do something without having a reason so I've been thinking about it a bit myself;  Do you refrain from swearing just because it makes you a bad person?  Why do we have the sense that we should not swear?  True, the Bible says that we shouldn't swear but I think that means swearing as in "making oaths" or taking the Lord's name in vain.  Ok, so we don't say, "I swear to God..." or use Jesus' name in irreverent ways. But the specific question that we have sought to answer is "What exactly is wrong with using profanity?  

In her book,  Swearing Is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language, Emma Byrne writes that "Swearing, it turns out, is an incredibly useful part of our linguistic repertoire. Not only has some form of swearing existed since the earliest humans began to communicate, but it has been shown to reduce physical pain, help stroke victims recover their language, and encourage people to work together as a team."

Even the apostle Paul uses "coarse language" in Philippians 3: 8 when he says, "What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ."  That word which is here translated "garbage" is more accurately "the refuse of animals", "dung" or "poop".

All of these things may be true but my experience tells me that peppering one's language with profanity hurts relationships, especially if one is swearing at someone.  Swearing usually adds a jolt of emotion (usually negative) to a conversation or interaction that is draining, uncomfortable or painful to the listener in most situations.  There is a degrading and disrespecting quality to swearing at someone. In conflict, profanity usually amps things up rather than calming things down which is not conducive to making peace or bringing resolution.  Once you've said, "F--- you" to someone, you really can't ever unsay that.

Now that they are in middle school, my girls are discovering that there is plenty of negativity, anger and meanness in this world.  Using profanity just adds to it.  For Christians, Ephesians 4:29 advises,"Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear."  Also, the practice of self control is important to the life of someone who is wanting to emulate the God of love.  According to James 1:26 "If you think you are being religious, but can't control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and everything you do is useless".  Another reason all this matters is that the words we use say a lot about what is in our heads. Philippians 4:8 says, "Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things". As we think about what's right and pure, cuss words are not helpful.

Words are a very powerful part of creating the reality in which we live as human beings.  In general, we ought to try to make our words be edifying, positive, and gracious, for our own sake and for the sake of people who are hearing our words.

But, at this point, if my son wants to express himself by swearing when he drops a knife, I'm still going to smile.  

What are your thoughts about swearing?  Swearing and parenting?  Swearing and being a parent of a child with special needs?  Swearing and the middle school experience?  Swearing in a household with kids?  

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