Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Nonsensical Habit

Okay, here’s a subject that is both popular and offensive. Popular because in today’s cultural climate, anything you want to say is okay. Offensive, because of what is being said. I’m talking about the very unpleasant habit of many who use coarse, foul language. What we used to call “cussing.”

Today, we find ourselves exposed to the use of vulgarity from all quarters of society. From Vice President Cheney’s use of the dreaded word on the floor of the Senate, to kids playing foul-mouthed-laced rap music from their cars while filling their gas tanks next to you. On more than one occasion I have made my wishes known that their music be turned off.

Then, of course, we see offensive language in books, magazines, and newspapers, often times gratuitously. There is this primal need to shock the reader, tantalizing them with what is yet to come. It is perceived as being bold and daring, creatively challenging the old status quo, implying that the civil manner of communication used in previous eras was disingenuous. It is even argued today that using such foul terms is being honest, which is another way of saying, “It’s okay for me to offend you.”

My mother pointed out an opinion piece in the local paper today, entitled, “Nations’ cussing habit needs to be curbed.” In the piece, the writer mentions a web site by Jim O’Connor: This is companion to his book, “Cuss Control: The Complete Book on how to Curb Cussing.” I have not read this book, but at least someone is addressing this offensive problem.

Cussing of all kinds has made inroads throughout the broadcast medium. We are subjected to it on television (particularly cable), radio, and the music and movie industries.

Underlying all of this is a pervasive disrespect for others. I was sitting in a local eatery in our small town, enjoying lunch with my mother, when in the booth adjoining ours I heard some of the most disgusting words a person could utter. I reacted by rising to my feet, locking my gaze on the offending party, saying, “If you don’t mind . . .” It wasn’t a question or a request. It was not intended to be. The young man, at first, simply looked back at me, unsure of what was happening. Then it hit him that he was using dirty language in a public place. He mumbled an apology, at which point I resumed my lunch.

Here is another problem we have in society: Cussing has gone unchecked for too long so that folks are unaware of the words they are using. Or worse yet, they no longer see anything wrong with it.

As I emerged into adulthood, I was well acquainted with the use of vulgar language. During my time as an enlisted Marine I made profuse use of all the ugly words known to man, along with their various combinations. Point of fact, when I surrendered my life to Christ at age twenty-four, I specifically asked the Lord to help me with my foul mouth. It was then that I discovered a verse in the Bible that helped me get a handle on this problem. In Ephesians 4:29, we are given instruction on the proper use of words when we speak. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

The word “unwholesome” (“corrupt communication” in the King James) in the original Greek literally means “rotten words.” That has always stuck with me, because that’s what it is – rotten.

What’s the alternative to rotten words? The verse above gives us the answer. Use only words that are helpful in building others up. If someone needs encouragement, say something that will be encouraging, lifting them from their moment of discouragement.

In the book of James, we learn much about the tongue. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” Engaging in the habit of swearing is a contradiction if we claim to be godly, not to mention it is an offense to God when we curse others.

The Reverend Daniel Thatcher Lake, my great grandfather, wrote in his memoirs in the late 1880s, that “several years of my boyhood days were spent in a village, a young Sodom: two whiskey shops, and no church. Card playing, horse racing, cock fighting, whiskey drinking and fisticuffs were the order of the day.” He grew up as a waiting boy for the guests in the boarding house his step father ran, located across the street from one of those whiskey drinking gambling halls. Being thus exposed daily to men in their baser nature, he marveled that he avoided such nastiness. “I never contracted the nonsensical, wicked habit of swearing,” he wrote.

How about you? Have you developed this “nonsensical, wicked habit”? You can make a difference in the way you choose and use your words. You can bless folks, or you can be an embarrassment. It’s your choice. But choose wisely.

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