I'm probably going to get some hate mail for this one. Be sure to send it to the correct place: firstname.lastname@example.org .I will reiterate from the previous Language is Everything post, that language matters. In this blog, there's another challenge. This time, it's the challenge to the status quo of what's good and bad language.
Freedom of expression is important. When working with relationships, I often coach them toward openness, honesty even when it is difficult, and understanding vs arguing. The ONLY way this works is if there's true freedom. This means freedom of expression by the giver, and the creation of a space truly free to express in by the receiver. If the speaker is not truly authentic in their expression, we cannot trust. If the listener is not truly authentic in their reply we cannot trust. Whether we like the speaking or not is irrelevant as long as we can trust its authenticity.
I don't want to get too deep into relationships. I just wanted to illustrate the need for true freedom in expression as a vehicle for building trust.
This brings me to good language vs bad language.
When I was younger, I was always taught that bad language was "fuck, damn, ass, shit," etc. Find a George Carlin comedy routine and he'll lay out all the words I grew up knowing them as bad language.
Like all teenagers, I challenged things. But this particular subject got stuck in my head and truly pondered it. I search for consistency, and when my mind can't find consistency in something, I tend to toss it. This was particularly maddening to my friends from church. I mean, let no corrupt communication come out of your mouths seems to nail it all on the head, right? Except that they never give a list. To which the reply was something usually like, "well, you don't need a list. Everyone reacts to these words and knows they're bad." To which I am like...and yet not. When you take English words to another country and they can't understand what you're saying, there's no evil inherently in the communication. You can scream these words to an empty room and there's no inherent evil to the syllables you're creating. It seemed to me that God is pretty consistent when it comes to what he expects, and that seems pretty inconsistent.
So, I kept my thoughts to myself and moved along, and life led me down some interesting experiences. I had the good fortune of my life falling apart. My marriage collapsed in on itself. I had brought destruction, and I didn't even need those 4-letter words to do it. I had bad language, and corrupt communication without ever having to use those words. This was evidenced in the destruction I brought when I said things like, "why am I stuck with you?" If you don't think that stings, you're an idiot. If you don't view that as worse than the word, "Fuck," then you need a brain transplant. There's no inherent evil in the word fuck, but there's unmistakable evil, damage and pain in that phrase.
I was lucky. I woke up to this nuance.
I remembered my vows. I remembered the language of breathing life into a relationship. I remembered the language I swore in an oath. I realized that my actions had not matched, and I had created bad language...corrupted communication. With God's help and grace I changed, and my marriage swung back to me from the brink of destruction. That's a story for another time.
Moving forward, I also had the fortune to sit with other couples and share some of our most horrifying moments, and despairing emotions. As we shared and they shared, I started to realize something else. The same things from my past that tore me up, were things that tore them up. Once we started discussing them, it wasn't some four-letter words that had brought us so much pain and distorted who we were. It was in moments like a friend of mine whose mother would poke the back of her neck and tell her she was too fat to wear that today, go change. It was when a father would tell his son he was nothing, and later his wife would say, "you're just like your dad."
All of these most damaging moments in life were created by people who would swear to never use bad language and yet, these phrases would fly effortlessly from their lips. I really started to challenge what I allowed myself to think of as bad language.
Then it happened. I was at a concert. I was listening to a live performance by Ben Folds of his Song for the Dumped. You can find it on Youtube if you want to understand this moment. This was a song that I dared to listen to only in secret when I was a kid because, "Oh the bad language!" I was sitting in this concert, surrounded by people who were singing along with it. The song is a song for the dumped. It's about being used and dumped. So when it comes to a certain part of the song, Ben Folds stopped singing and held the mic to the crowd and we all shouted, "FUCK YOU TOO!"
It gave me chills. I looked around and I didn't see grown ups. For a moment, I saw back in time to my teens. I saw other once-teenagers. I saw people who had been hurt, dumped and needed a jolt or a push to get back up on their feet and move along. I saw that jolt in that song. It was a rallying cry that said, "You're not alone. We hated that part of growing up, too!" It was cathartic. It was connecting. It would have been impossible without those words.
I've seen similar moments of growth come when a person struggling says, "You know, fuck what my dad thinks. I'm going to ____." And they step to a whole new level in life. Or, "who gives a rats ass what Sara thinks, I'm done with this." And they move forward where once they were stuck.
I started looking at it this way. Jesus has said that you will know a tree by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears bad fruit. I see good fruit come from some of these moments where there's language some would call bad language. And I see bad fruit come from people who believe that because they avoid such words they are filled with nothing but good language. I think Jesus already called BS on that with his statement about the trees and their fruit. But what's REALLY interesting is when you get to Acts later, and Peter is in a dream and God is showing him all kinds of unclean animals. He tells Peter to rise, kill and eat. Peter refuses because they're unclean. Then God reminds him that what He has called clean, no man can call unclean.
Since we made up these lists of bad language, and not God, I think it's important that we look deeper into what good language and bad language are. So, here's what I think. Here's what I tell my kids (yes, I let them say these words if they understand them and use them correctly).
If you know that something bothers someone. Stop doing it. The same way that torturing your sister over and over by pestering her is wrong, saying things that you know highly offend someone is wrong. Don't cram it down their throats. But you are free to express yourself the way you need. Just don't be a nuisance to people by shoving your freedom in their face.