This is part seven of an 11-part series of blog excerpts written by Bea V. Larsen, JD, Center for Resolution of Disputes. These eleven blogs also appeared in Care Management Journals, Volume 15, Number 1, 2014. Full sample downloads of this journal are available here.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, staunch defender of the First Amendment, never wrote a free speech decision I didn’t like.
From my perspective, even symbolic speech, armbands worn by protesting high school students, flag burning, and so forth should be protected. Expose all that is spoken or written or symbolized to the light of day and encourage conversation in the “free market place of ideas.” I reject not only government censorship, but most institutional voluntary censorship as well. Of course, I make exceptions for speech or symbols that create a clear and present danger (i.e., shouting “fire” in the theater), and allow for protection of youngsters from that deemed too frightening or perverse, but little else.
So, long live the audacity of George Carlin’s seven unspeakable words routine (which I watched this week for the first time, on YouTube), and let Jesse Jackson’s angry crude remarks about President Obama, whispered into a live mike, appear accurately in the print press. The New York Times, applying their stringent criteria calling for “civility in public discourse,” bleeped Jackson’s comments, and left their readers in the dark (and scurrying for alternate news sources). When obscene language is not relevant to the story, leaving it out makes sense. In this instance, it did not.
So, that’s my public stance, but there’s another aspect to my story.
Recently, two of my colleagues sat chatting in my office discussing a judicial ruling about a subject since forgotten, and one said, “He didn’t have the balls to . . .” and for 2 seconds I stopped breathing. I turned to the non-speaker and asked: Were you surprised when she used those words?
His jovial answer: Of course not. I use language like that and far worse, but never in front of you.
By now we were all consumed with laughter, but mine was a bit uneasy.
Yes, I know all the words, even suffer through their endless use in modern film, literature and overheard cell phone conversations, but they have never been part of my vocabulary, and without being asked, perceptive friends and family protect my ears.
My public position and my private reaction do not match. A good illustration of cognitive dissonance. A disconnect between what I believe and how I react. My emotional response belies my intellectual outlook. Will I be perceived as protesting too much by insisting that I am not a prude? I am not. So, why this inconsistency?
Swear words that don’t reference an almighty being, typically allude to sexual or bodily functions. For generations younger than mine, repeated usage of these words has robbed them of all shock value and probably of any real meaning. Just a way to let off steam. Formerly the province of boys and men, are those girls and women entering the fray letting the world know they are “one of the boys?”
For me, each “forbidden” word is more than an expletive. When spoken in my presence, my privacy boundary is crossed. Unwanted, uninvited crude images are evoked. In some instances, the beautiful is made ugly. Is this why for me, but not for most others, they carry the negative impact they do? Perhaps.
Will my new insight bring about a shift, a relaxation? Actually after viewing George Carlin’s hilarious seven words shtick, I have loosened up a bit. But will those words ever fall easily from my lips?