Jeanine Swenson, MD, FAAP, FACC, LMFT
Things seem to be changing quickly in our world. Gradually obscenities have crept into interactions and our ever-expanding culture. Many of us value freedom of speech as an individual right, and this may have hindered any discussions regarding possible downsides or meaning to this interactive trend. What, if anything, does it imply for our collective future?
Our language, rooted in Latin, contains almost one million words. Certainly lack of word choice cannot be the problem. But it is just a few four-lettered utterances; why should we worry?
Our nation is one of the top three in the world in population and is becoming more crowded, hectic and urbanized. We must adapt quickly to changes in our demographics. In our communities, things have sped up and we may not have the same kind of time for connecting and truly knowing our neighbors. It’s hard to appreciate the effects of stress when it is part of your everyday life.
Like water we drink or air that we breathe, stress just seems to be part of our 21st century landscape. How much of our language is a symptom of our times and the extreme pressure and complexity of modern life today?
On an interpersonal level, speech and self-expression reflect one’s thoughts, feelings, education and upbringing and this output is highly visible to the world. Don’t we want this manner of communicating to be as positive and complimentary as possible?
Sadly, I have long discussions with my teenage children about whether certain four-letter words are even obscenities because they have become so commonplace and accepted. To prove his point, this week my son pointed out two four-letter words printed in a chapter book intended for seven to twelve-year-old readers.
Many would suggest that this dissemination of foul language could be the harbinger of more serious cultural decline. The phrase “culture of disrespect” was coined by Dr. David Walsh in his 2004 novel entitled, “Why Do They Act That Way? A survival guide to the adolescent brain for you and your teen.” In dissecting the negative impact of violent media content to which Americans are increasingly being exposed, Dr Walsh proclaims, “the most important effect of this diet of violent behavior, in my opinion, isn’t actual violent behavior but the culture of disrespect it has created and nourished.” Speech and language is one of mechanisms by which this culture of disrespect is replicated and propagated. We must be concerned when even the smallest mouths are talking up a blue streak.
Like any significant behavioral change, any improvement in language is going to take collective effort from all concerned individuals and caring adults. But, I ask you, where are the caring adults?
Obscenities have seeped into many aspects of our mass media including music, magazines, movies, and television and seem to be aimed disproportionately toward the most impressionable minds. But the time is now to start countering these messages.
One of the most effective ways to show disapproval of anything in a capitalistic society is to stop buying it. Ultimately it is the consumer who wields the power and decision-making ability. By showing disapproval and offense at the hurling of these vulgarities, each individual can do his or her part to discontinue one aspect of this growing culture of anger and disrespect.
Sadly I have no answers here, only questions? Who will enact change? Certainly, our children deserve a culture of respect, and I for one am willing to do the work necessary to change it. Are you?