By KATIE BORKOWSKI
Profanity, obscenity, vulgarity and “telling it like it is” seems almost impossible to avoid nowadays.
Social media teems with it. Musical recordings, television shows, comedians’ routines and movie scripts don’t shy away from inappropriate language. Even individuals in positions of respect seem to have no problem with words that would have had our mothers washing our mouths out with soap.
Father Terry Roder, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Sioux City, pointed to a “growing lack of respect in speech for others is becoming more common in our world.”
Julie Elbert, clinical director at Catholic Charities, explained in the therapy setting, “people tend to clean up their language; however, out in public or in front of one’s friends, people may talk differently.”
“Really, there just are very few social consequences for using foul language at this point,” said Wendy Brame, who is beginning her ninth year as associate professor of sociology at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City.
“Not everyone even agrees on what qualifies as profanity,” she added. “What one person uses daily and thinks is just another vocabulary word might be an obscenity to someone else.”
The Lord’s name
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The second commandment prescribes respect for the Lord’s name” (CCC 2142). “The Lord’s name is holy. For this reason, man must not abuse it” (CCC 2143).
“Using the name of God in vain, is to make useless and pointless, that which we all should have a great desire to honor, love and cherish, so much so, that we are afraid of using God’s name even in a careless way, so much do we want to honor and love God,” said Father Roder.
He added using bad language or taking the Lord’s name in vain are sins.
“Even the small sins need attention, so they do not become habitual and bigger sins that continue to harden our hearts, or to make us move that line of what is acceptable further and further away from the truth and the love of Christ,” Father Roder stated.
Media, societal influence
Elbert pointed out people who spend a lot of time online, playing video games, watching videos and not having enough face-to-face contact with real people offline may think it is easier to “cut to the chase” and say what they believe to be true.
“Typically, they may see no need for ‘sugar coating’ their beliefs,” she said. “They may have little tolerance of differing views and lash out at others. This behavior seems to be getting more common.”
Brame acknowledged mass media (TV, books and movies mainly) did play a role in an acceleration of what was considered impolite speech.
“As media pushed against the boundaries – using stronger swear words, using them in lower-rated movies (lower as in PG-13 or R) or in earlier TV time slots – the use of this language shifted from taboo to normal,” she said.
However, Brame clarified, media is far from the only influence on culture.
“When something is no longer seen as deviant, it has become a social norm,” she said.
According to Father Roder, foul language is still not the “established norm for polite society.”
“It is becoming so much more prevalent and tolerated in society, whether in the movies, TV, print or everyday language,” he said. “People are getting more and more desensitized to it.”
How to respond
Individuals, said Elbert, are responsible for their reactions and behaviors.
“Our internal reaction to a situation does not warrant an explosive external response,” she said. “There are ways to navigate our anger, especially after we learn about how it can escalate.”
First, an individual must learn that their anger follows a pattern or progression that is observable, Elbert noted.
“If we take the time to learn our own individual responses to irritation, discomfort and conflict, we can also learn how to calm our self-down and not allow our anger to harm others,” she said. “This takes practice and sometimes requires the help of a therapist.”
Father Roder felt there is definitely a “dumbing-down” of standards.
“Plus, maybe a little battle fatigue setting in,” he said. “There is so much to take up arms about in our standards of morality, ethics and justice – like respect for life, respect for human dignity, a desire to settle differences peacefully – that I think people may think of ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’”
In the future, Brame noted all signs are pointing to the trend toward an increase in swearing, “although it’s hard to guess the future. There is nothing I can think of that would disrupt the trend.”