Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Case For Polite

I have spewed my share of expletives. Ask anyone who has ridden as a passenger when I am driving my car and they will attest to it. You could even check in with more than one of my former colleagues and they will tell you that within the walls of my office I have been known to use one or two of those  words that will get you fined if you utter them on public airwaves. Sometimes a good ol' four-letter word is the only word that will do.

But you will not catch me using swear words in this blog as a means to express my opinion. Profanity is not going to show up in a tweet or Facebook post. You will not find me cursing in a taped interview, a video clip or in front of a room full of people who may or may not be paying to hear me speak. As old fashioned or corny as it may sound I have my set of standards. I believe there is a time and place for everything. Yes, I may have a character in one of my novels use an expletive but that is my character's voice and not mine.   When I hear obscenities spoken carelessly with no regard to whom might find it offensive, I get a little crazy.

I am far from conservative on most issues but when it comes to the careless use and misuse of language that seems to be pervasive in these wild times I think that someone has to make the case for polite. So here it is.

In much the way most of us shut down when someone is yelling and pointing fingers, I stop listening when I hear or see what was once consider "dirty" words or "obscenities" dropped in a cavalier manner. If the person speaking thinks they are being cool or hip, I  don't. I think crude. I lose respect. I  judge. Yes, I don't often judge but I do in this case. I now have a picture in my mind of who and what that person is about and I don't like it.  I shut down and am not all that interested in hearing what that person has to say.

For example, when House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor is quoted as saying "the debt limit vote sucks" my already low opinion of him is solidified. I understand more why there has been no resolution on this issue. We have elected officials whose vocabulary is so limited that they cannot think of a more respectable adjective to describe how they feel. I wonder if they realize they stand in a public arena representing citizens of this country and not that on the stage of the Beacon Theatre delivering a comedy routine.  I wonder where their sense of decorum is but then I realize if they are limited to using words like "suck" to describe their feelings, they probably do not know what decorum is. Or for that matter professional.

I was taught to act like a grown-up in public. I coach what I was taught to others. If you are on a job interview or in the middle of negotiations with a big client, think about what you say and the words you are using. Be polite. It can go a long way.

We live in a time where in a flash your message can be communicated to the far reaches of the globe. And that, I happen to believe is a very good, very democratizing result of all this technology. But it does not  preclude common sense. It does obliterate knowing our audience. It does not mean that we can't pause for just a few minutes and think before we let the words fly out of our mouths, especially when there is a camera around, especially when we or someone else can take that sound bite to Twitter or Facebook. I'm not asking for much, just a little politeness and refinement with the goal of actually communicating with each other and perhaps getting something done.

Who knows, if the House and Senate tried practicing such behavior, they might actually find time to do their jobs instead of politically posturing themselves. They might actually start listening to what the majority of the American people want.  They might even see their way to resolving the debt ceiling issue.

What do you think about the careless use of language in today's viral world?
Would you like to see a little more politeness in the world?


Shannan said...

Oh Joanne, you are so right. I hear it and see it in my office every day from teens to the older generations. I, like you, have been taught better and know the limits of profanity. It doesn't take an acting career to know the difference between public face and private face! Great article, well done!!

Unknown said...

Thanks Shannan! Let's keep spreading the message of polite!

Nance said...

Yes, but it's tough for me. I was raised in a family that used one particular, excrementally-derived term to excess. I think it was my little cousin's very first word. And then, I entered womanhood in an era when bad words made me feel slightly bigger and less vulnerable; I was all for anything that would work that little wonder, even if that blue air around me just gave me a bit of breathing space.

Then, I topped it all off with marriage to a fighter pilot.

So, my best hope is to be articulate and use big words to say the same thing. I admit I fail occasionally. Today's House vote MADE me fail. I blame them.