Watching My Mouth (Or Not)
I have a saucy mouth, I'm told. I love the music of obscenity, I love provoking people, I find it simply delightful saying things that shock the people listening out of the stupor of hearing rather than thinking about what I'm saying.
The downside to this approach is turning the provocateur off when I'm actually trying to communicate something I feel is important. And certain words get caught in the minds of folks hearing me and the result is that these people don't hear the rest.
The easy and lazy answer to this is to either A) watch what I say when I'm communicating and accept that people are becoming more thin-skinned and ready to be insulted at every turn or B) throw up my hands and blame the problem of my communication on those who refuse to listen because of these loaded words and phrases.
I've noticed (as have far more than I) that as society becomes more acceptably diverse, the language we use to describe one another becomes more and more inclusive and political. In a society that has been dominated by Straight White Guys since recorded history, opening up the lunch counter to everyone and pulling the boot off of the necks of the oppressed is a universal good. The more diversity sitting at the table means we all win in the end because the ideas are fresher, more culturally rich, and an increased awareness of universal commonalities makes us better humans. But with this opening up comes a focus on the way we describe one another than causes undue tension when we try to communicate. I wonder how this increased inclusiveness and politicization of language affects us.
"I don't date smokers."
Pretty simple statement. Not really anything other than a statement of personal preference. Who could possibly find that preference offensive?
If we intellectualize it, we can say that
• Most people in America who smoke are centered in the lower economic scale
• Black people smoke more than White people [source]
"I don't date smokers."
"So, you don't date poor black people?"
"What? I didn't say that!"
Exactly. And kind of stupid and over analyzed, yes?
I agree that, out of simple politeness and common courtesy, certain words just shouldn't be used in mixed company. Racial epithets, historically derogatory terms, and politically intolerant words used as propaganda to continue to oppress those who have been oppressed. Words that define others by things beyond personal choice. At a certain point, however, without words to use to define each other, we lose the ability to communicate anything at all.
"You were verbally attacked by someone. Can you describe him."
"He was a man."
"What was his race?"
"He was sort of tan..."
"What was his build...?"
"He was sort of robust..."
"Was he a fat white guy?"
With everyone looking to insult and thus everyone ready to be insulted, I fear the language is the thing that will suffer.
In the meantime, I guess I need to watch my mouth. Or not.