the sum of our words
The first thing to hit the ears of freshmen and visitors to Conval is the f-word, a word so packed with personal meaning that it cannot be printed in any reputable newspaper.
I once heard a student waiting for Philosophy class to start casually use the f-word three or four times in a sentence. When I expressed my surprise and disappointment he quickly and calmly apologized and turned back to his companion, a young lady.
When I told him the apology would not be enough, he looked truly surprised and explained to me, politely and a little bored it seemed, that the f-word didn’t mean anything really. "It is an intensifier. Like if it is really, really hot you say 'It is really f-ing hot.'"
"Why not say it is astoundingly hot, or it is incredibly hot, or it is cataclysmically hot?" I asked.
"Well, because it sounds better to say it is really f-ing hot,"he explained with a sigh. Or I think that is what he said. It was hard to hear him across the generation gap.
Last year, I heard a senior having a long distance conversation with a friend.
"I'LL BE OUT IN THE PARKING LOT RIGHT AFTER BLOCK THREE," he yelled across the HRC, "BE SURE TO BRING YOUR F-ING BOOKBAG THIS TIME. I'M NOT GOING TO WAIT FOR YOU TO GO BACK AND F-ING GET IT AGAIN."
He saw me, smiled and attempted to go about his business. I stopped him and inquired if he could at the very least refrain from yelling that across the HRC in the middle of the school day. "Sure," he said with what seemed like sincerity, "I was just f-ing around." He remained smiling at me as I remained staring at him. Finally he said, "I just said it again didn't I?"
Well, yes he had, and, unfortunately, so have a lot of students since then. Probably the most consistent and yet most easily avoided affront by students to faculty is the use of the f-word and other obscenities. To virtually every staff member, coarse language denotes lack of education and breeding, especially the way some students seem incapable of expressing themselves without using it.
And yet, all but the most coarse of students know enough to refrain from using such language when it is inappropriate. Seldom do students use obscenities in class, and for virtually every student there is someone or some place where he makes sure not to use obscene words.
This seems to indicate that their use of such language is either a deliberate choice based upon a felt freedom to use whatever words they want, or a lack of awareness of their choice of words and therefore a lack of education and breeding, or their lack of respect for the sensibilities of others.
Aristotle said "we are the sum of our actions," thereby allowing others to judge us by our actions rather than our thoughts or intents. I would add that we are also judged by the words we use to express ourselves.
Because students are able to use obscene and coarse language without much consequence does not mean that they should. If left alone in your house, you may be able to eat all of the jelly in the refrigerator and pantry, but you will soon realize you should not.
By letting students use such language, fellow students (and especially upperclassmen) create a low culture in our halls that is only seldomly checked by the consequence of a teacher or administrator telling students to "Watch your language,"or "Lighten up." To the coarsely bred, this is not deterent enough.
Ultimately, of course, the joke will be on the foul-mouthed, for while our society placates the economically and spiritally poor with freedoms, the real benefits and freedom of our culture are reserved for those who discipline themselves.
The irony is that people who do not crave and need freedom from restraints are the ones who get the most freedoms; and those who chafe at the least bit of restraint will be restrained the most.
In today's world, those who insist on using obscenities to express themselves will find that few will care what they are saying. Montaigne said that, as humans, we relate to each other almost entirely with our words, and we should take care as to how we present ourselves to others with them.
The words we use define us. Who really wants their friends, family and loved ones to identifiy them with obscenities?