10 June, 2007

Anti-profanity

From James 3·4—10:

It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot's inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. ...It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers.
Like anyone else, I am subject to profane exclamations. In theory, I have told myself that I don't want to say them, but in practice it's difficult to overcome this. We are raised in a profane culture; indeed, many fancy their use of profanity to be a mark of sophistication and maturity. I like to think that I don't have recourse to profanity often, and when I do, I try to breathe it quietly. Alas, painting or repairing the house, as well as programming a computer, give one all too many opportunities to spit bile. This habit has grown to where it is a festering wound in my soul, and if we take St. James seriously, a foul tongue is a bad sign.

The problem is to retrain the mind to think something different, to reorient itself away from what our culture prizes. I may have found a solution, and I'll post it here in case it anyone else might find it helpful. My apologies if this is an old, well-known remedy.

My most frequent exclamation was a variant of God damn it! say, when paint drips somewhere it shouldn't, or God damn you! say, when I'm mad at a tool (which in itself is a pretty stupid attitude actually if you stop to think about it). The latter version was creeping into my driving, and into my usual thoughts.

One day I realized that I could replace that profanity with a single word and transform the frustration into a prayer. The word? "Bless". When paint drips on the carpet, I can exclaim, God bless it! or God bless me! If someone cuts me off on the highway, God bless you!

It didn't work very well at first, and it is a little entertaining with other profanities. On the highway I might exclaim, You fucking idiot! then grit my teeth and correct myself. You blessed idiot! Quite frankly I sounded stupid, but the phrase You fucking idiot! isn't exactly the pinnacle of intellectual refinement, either.

I wondered if there were any point to this, or if I would train myself merely to repeat the word "bless" after any profanity. That in itself wouldn't have been so bad, to tell the truth.

But something was changing, and a few days ago I noticed that I have started to exclaim immediately when frustrated, God bless it! or God bless me! or even You blessed idiot! without the prior profanity. I still haven't trained myself completely while driving, but things are changing slowly. Observing this small change has given me hope for a greater change, and with the change in language comes also a change in attitude, at least with these small and trivial frustrations. St. James was right.

1 comment:

Alessandra said...

I absolutely detest living in a profane society - it is just so denigrating and insulting to our entire beings.

In a related aspect to what you wrote, I do think that there is an aspect of swearing that is tied to gender roles - I absolutely detest to see women with a foul mouth, and depending on the context, it can be less ugly for a man.

I also think there is an enormous difference - and this is what I really find irritating nowadays - between people who occasionally swear, usually in moments of great anger, frustration, or other difficult emotions, and those people who have adopted profanity as their day-to-day vocab 24/7.

I don't mind that much if someone (of any sex) swears as an exclamation or other expression if it is quite rare. But I hate how less vulgar swearing words (because there are all kinds of degrees ) have become almost normal words in our deranged social interactions (bitch, shit, etc).

And I detest people using profanity to talk about sex - just one more example of how diseased modern culture is about sexuality.