Wednesday, August 20, 2008

As Good as it's Going to Get

Have you ever left a note on the bathroom mirror long-term as a reminder either to do or be something? If you have, try to remember how long it took before the note completely disappeared from notice—it was still there, mind you, it had just blended into the background and thus escaped attention.

I work with the young men in my ward. At last night's activity, one young man reported that his brother reads books with all sorts of swear words and doesn't notice them anymore. I asked the brother about it, and he confirmed that he has become desensitized to swearing.

I've been thinking about words, language, and desensitization lately, even prior to the brothers episode. I wonder what I've become desensitized to. Do I not notice swear words? Do I no longer cringe when the Lord's name is used in vain? Are "I love you"s falling on desensitized ears? Do I not pick up on the underlying pleading for personal attention in my children's requests?

I hope not, but I don't know.

My wife and I have been noticing the apparently increased use of substitute swear words by those near us. These are sayings or exclamations that aren't really swear words, but mean the same thing. Is using a substitute the same as a genuine swear word? Today's Non Sequitur comic asks the same question:

One may ask why swearing is bad; they're just words, after all. I like the following quotes:

There are no doubt some unacceptable words that … are offensive only because society happens to consider them so. We should keep in mind that many good people (right or wrong) are offended by these terms and consider them evidence of a lack of Christian dignity or even a lack of morality (Daniel S. Hess, “Offend Not in Word,” New Era, Mar. 1975, p. 9).

Despite the prevalence of profanity, there is still good language and bad language, refined speech and crude speech, reverent language and irreverent language, and the prevalence of such practice hasn’t removed the difference between the two (Richard L. Evans, “The Use of Profanity,” Improvement Era, June 1965, p. 554).

In addition to societal considerations, we have the commandment of the Lord: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain" (Ex. 20:7). The historical application of this law (and others) resulted in an extreme view of its violation:

Long prior to the time of Christ, certain schools among the Jews, ever intent on the observance of the letter of the law, though not without disregard of its spirit, had taught that the mere utterance of the name of God was blasphemous, and that the sin of so doing constituted a capital offense (James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, ch. 4, end note 3).

What reaction should we have when we hear swearing, particularly invoking the name of Deity irreverently? I'm not keen on stoning or putting others to death (contrast Lev 24:16 and John 8:7), yet I hope that I don't get so used to it that it doesn't make me shiver inside, or use watered-down versions as substitutes myself.

Is there any hope of finding respite from swearing? Elder Bednar observed: "As bad as it is is as good as it's going to get." This was regarding the state of the world's wickedness, and is applicable here. This makes sense and goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge that "the world is ripening in iniquity" (D&C 18:6). A BYU professor reminded that the ripening process of fruit, a banana, for example, involves going from green, to yellow, to brown. Bananas don't go from brown back to green (at least not in a good way). Ripening is not cyclic. In other words: "As bad as it is is as good as it's going to get." Nevertheless, we can find safety and protection. Consider the following verse in context of this discussion:

But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die (D&C 45:32).

I want to take a fresh look at my life, including my thoughts and words, to see if I have slipped into the habit of using substitute (or genuine) profanity. Clearly I'm in need of such an examination because last night Maryann pointed out that I've started using the phrase, "Thanks, man" when dealing with cashiers, guys, etc. If this seemingly benign phrase that is foreign to my personality has slipped in, what else may have snuck in, too?

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