In Defense of Genteel Speech

I get it that some of your friends think you are funny as hell, that you have an acerbic wit, a dark or ribald sense of humor. I understand you grew up where life is faster, edgier; that you have had different life experiences. Maybe you have issues because someone you identify with a type or group has taken advantage of you, or is seemingly getting a benefit they do not deserve. Let’s face it; people out there are sometimes just dumb, thoughtless, arrogant, ignorant, selfish and mean. I understand we sometimes seek and receive affirmation for our frustration with all of that by posting on FB. But HOW we describe the foibles of humanity for humor’s sake or just to vent, does make a difference. It makes a difference in how our comments are received – whether they cause laughter and “Oh, I TOTALLY get that!”, or a ripple of recognition and a silent promise to self to try not to be “that” person, or whether they cause hurt and alienation among our audience of “Friends”. I am not talking about the passive-aggressive shot at someone you really do want to call out. I am talking about labeling the anonymous. Language allows us to be funny, cutting, edgy, witty and even brutally honest without being thoughtlessly hurtful. Be careful how you describe someone whose behavior has annoyed you. Try to confine your description of the person to criteria that actually matter. People will respond very differently to a post that reads, “Just almost lost it – the driver of that white sedan just crossed three lanes of traffic in front of me like a stone skipping the surface of a pond – while texting!!!” than they will to, “Nothing I hate more than people like that sliver-lipped ass-less grey hair who just cut me off!” Why? Because nothing matters about the physical characteristics of the driver in the story – until you label them. The first tells me you are annoyed by dangerous behavior. The second tells me you make broad generalizations about people, that you equate reckless behavior with people who may be like me in some respects and are likely to regard all people with those characteristics unkindly. To borrow from Marshall Rosenberg, if we speak the language of jackals we should not be surprised when people respond accordingly. We live in at a time when our culture and the media engulfs us in angry, combative, aggressive jackal language every waking moment. It pits us against each other for sport (sports like ratings and political races). It diminishes us. I used to tell my children that swearing/cussing was what people did because they were too ignorant to use words that actually had meanings. It takes presence of mind to elevate our speech above the 2nd grade level we are fed every day. It is going to take individual acts of conscious and courageous self-will not to be dragged down to the level of animals snarling at each other in a pit. The first step is to understand the power of language and to choose our words carefully, even in casual conversation, even in disagreement – or maybe especially then.


About wisdomseason

Embracing both the hard scrabble self sufficiency and resilience of my ancestors and the burgeoning Information Age to help make family experience richer, healthier and happier. Maturity does not mean I cannot approach every day with the same excitement I felt as I swung my skinny legs over my bike on a summer morning, bag lunch in my basket, for a day of riding and hiking the woods and fields around my home in upstate New York or went blackberry picking in the heavy cicada song drenched afternoons at my grandmother's in Kentucky. Let's explore!
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2 Responses to In Defense of Genteel Speech

  1. You are such a wise woman. You are someone I feel blessed to have in my life, Renee. I look up to you. 🙂


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