The Etiquette of Profanity
Do I have your attention?
I grew up playing ball in inner-city schoolyards, and played varsity high school sports using antiquated locker rooms and facilities in run-down neighborhoods. Obscenities were a mindless aspect of our existence, and most of us didn’t even think about the meaning of the words we were using.
Then, of course, I grew up, received a university education, and entered the world of business. During that time, I learned to successfully modify my behavior. I can still curse like a sailor (no offense to ocean-going professionals intended) when I hit my thumb with a hammer, or fall down a flight of icy steps. It’s a wonderful catharsis. But I can’t remember the last time I did that with a client, or in a restaurant, or even a bar, especially when my voice is readily heard and there are strangers around who don’t appreciate my basically tender and generous soul.
A great deal of the commentary I read on YouTube is beyond our old locker room banter. Some people on Facebook seem not to care what the people in that restaurant think of them, they’re shouting it out. (Facebook has often been compared to a raucous Boston bar at closing time, but I think there is more civility in the bar, and there are people who tell loudmouths to “knock it off.”)
Profanity in a debate—especially in an ad hominem attack on the other person—is a poor substitute for intellect. It denotes a paucity of intelligence, of reasoning power, of wit. (Just as the “comics” who simply string profanities together as their “act” put me to sleep. That’s not wit. It’s nitwit.) Now that the social media platforms have created such vaster public forums, the degree to which many resort to invective rather than invention is appalling.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve had to throw two people out of my Mentor Program for deciding they were simply going to use profanity and ad hominem attack to communicate and to impugn others. (I’ve only had to do that three times before in 15 years, and those three were for ethics violations.)
I realize I’m leaving myself open to the wise guys who will post commentary here in response using profanity, such is life, but surely there must be a majority getting tired of people not even bothering to think long enough to use words to try to influence, rather than curses to try to scare. It seems to me the constant danger in vast public interaction is always that of the looming menace of the lowest common denominator becoming the norm.
© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.