Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Swearing Situation

I don’t think I heard a “real” swear word until I was at least thirteen.

Growing up in a house with two parents who didn’t swear, going to a school where swearing was reason for expulsion, and of course, there was church where, for the obvious reasons, not many people feel comfortable swearing – I didn’t have much of an opportunity to become well versed in profanity.

I was exactly thirteen when I said my first bad word.

Actually, being the writer I was, I wrote the bad word in my diary. I even remember the sentence. “Those stupid cheerleaders think they can do whatever they d--- well please!” I think I went on to be rather indignant of cheerleaders in general.

Not two days after I wrote that particular entry, my Mom and I had a big fight. I was thirteen and so that was pretty much par for the course. Well, in the middle of the fight, my sainted mother, from whom I’d never even heard so much as an “Oh, dear!” exclamation, said, “You are acting like you can do whatever you d--- well please!”

I was furious and burst forth with an accusation. “Have you been reading my diary?” I demanded.

“What?” Mom was totally confused. Then, so was I. Turns out she hadn’t read my diary, but that our two minds had somehow latched on to that phrase and used it within days of each other.

I stormed off to my room. I was less upset that my mother had just sworn at me, and more worried that she’d want to know exactly what kind of filth I was writing in my diary.

After a few minutes, Mom knocked on my door. She came in and apologized for swearing at me. Being the smart mouth teenager I was, I agreed to forgive her…if she was d--- sure she was sorry.

Now, most parents would have hit the roof. But Mom didn’t. Instead, she sat down and told me a story.

She told me her own mother, who raised 12 children, had also used the “d” word once. Mom remembered it all very clearly. She said all the kids were in the kitchen, clamoring for attention, when my Aunt Laurie, who was very young, picked up a pair of scissors and started playing with them.

“D--- it, Laurie! Put those down,” my normally even-tempered grandmother exclaimed. Mom says the kitchen fell silent, Aunt Laurie dropped the scissors, and Grandma just went back to her chores. Mom said that no one mentioned it again until years later when they were all old enough to laugh about it.

By that time, both of our tempers had cooled off. I apologized for swearing, and Mom joked that all Rehfeldt women were allowed to say the “d” word once, and we’d both just used up our turns.

Later, I told the Grandma the story, and we laughed about it together. She told me how incredibly guilty she had felt, but also how (in that instance) it sure did get her point across!

So, mostly, I am a stranger to swearing. But now, after having been in the professional world, and just less sheltered, I suppose, I have been introduced to swearing in regular conversation.

I have always worked in professional offices, so my swearing exposure has been less intense. Brett assures me that the “factory” work world is just one long swear word after another.

But swearing definitely also exists in the “office” world. I’ve worked in a nurses’ office, a Chamber of Commerce, and a non-profit office, and I’ve heard clever and not-so-clever uses of profanity in all of them.

The thing about people who swear – they get uncomfortable when they realize you don’t. In the different places I’ve worked, I’ve gotten a reputation as a goody-two-shoes, people who try to get me to swear, and even the nicest people who say the obligatory “Sorry!” in my general direction after taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Mostly, I take it all in stride. I figure that the people who are swearing are, most likely, not saved, so it’s not like they are under Holy Spirit’s influence. And, since it IS an office environment, the swearing is mostly light and never used professionally.

Occasionally, I’ve had the chance to make a point here or there. Once, our bookkeeper took the Lord’s name in vain, and then started choking on a hard candy. It took her several hearty coughs and throat clears before she could speak again. She looked at me, and since I knew her pretty well, I said, “Serves you right.” She nodded, smiled, and said, “I suppose you’re right!”

But occasionally the swearing gets to me. One of my pastors once said, “When you get bumped in life - whatever you’re really full of - will spill out.”

I work with a woman about my age. We get along very well and work great as a team. The problem? She swears more than anyone I know. I could take her through the alphabet, and I’ll bet she knows a swear word for every letter.

One time I made a joke about how much – and how graphically – she swears. She kept insisting that “I’m not THAT bad.” But she is, and being with her all day seems to push the words through my ears and into my brain. And a couple of times, when I’ve been “bumped,” a word has come out.

Last night, we were at Wendy’s, and Brett was joking about eating some of my fries. I was jokingly thinking, “Oh, no you don’t.” But that’s not what came out. “Oh, h---, no!” I said.

Before the words were even completely out, I clapped my hand over my mouth and stared flabbergasted at my husband. My eyes must have been huge.

I know exactly why I said it. My swear-prone friend from work had walked around all day complaining about a recent project using those exact words.

I was instantly ashamed and apologized to my husband. He was really surprised but could tell I felt bad about the whole thing.

Brett has sympathy for the swearing situation. He knows what it’s like. Unlike me, he didn’t grow up in a Christian home, attend Christian school, or go to church. His parents didn’t swear, but that didn’t help him from being introduced to swearing at a very young age.

Now, people who know Brett, know he is mostly a very quiet person. But that all changes when he gets behind the wheel of a car. That’s when his swearing temptation is at its highest. He knows this and has worked for years to control it. That’s not to say his control hasn’t slipped from time to time in the years we’ve been together. He’s had to apologize to me for the very same reason from time to time.

Still, it frightens me to think that I am so easily influenced. I used to think that being a Christian somehow inoculated me against something as small a little old swear word.

Apparently, that little old swear word has a lot more power over me than I realized. This means, of course, I have to be more vigilant and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. And purpose in my heart not to swear. Even unintentionally.

The thing is that I think people who swear often “cheat” at their words. If you don’t swear, you automatically have to be more creative in your language. You can’t fall back on the old familiar way of describing a situation or expressing emotion, you have the opportunity to express your ideas in a totally clean and higher way. It actually makes you appear more professional and in charge of a situation.

Mr. Thompson, my eighth grade teacher, was talking about swearing in one of our Bible classes. He said that swear words, with the exception of the Lord’s name, were mostly just “made up” by the masses. That the “real” sin was behind the actual words.

He told us that if we had sinful intentions in our hearts when we talked about someone – if we called them a name – any name – it was just as wrong as swearing. He even said if we called someone a “hammer” but meant another word or had a sinful emotion in our mind, we had just sinned. And that was just as bad as swearing.

That has always stuck with me. I hope my everyday words have honest intentions behind them.

So, I can honestly say that I’m going to keep trying not be influenced and not to swear – not even (sorry, Grandma) the “d” word.

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