“Language is the bridge that connects our minds and hearts to the outside world.” – Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I’ve loved language for as long as I can remember. I had the good fortune of learning early in life the power of a well-chosen word. Words can encourage a diamond in the rough, uplift a wounded soul, and exalt those special people who give their best, time after time. My vocabulary brokers my power in this world, builds my professional image, strengthens my social ties, and maintains my emotional and physical health.
Then Why on Earth Do I Swear?
Would you believe I didn’t pick up this nasty habit until later in life, when I had a coworker who really seemed to enjoy shocking us with his “colorful” language? What offended me at first gradually turned to amusement, and then sadly morphed into indifference. My exposure to his nonstop barrage of f-bombs left me shell shocked, and I found myself at the grocery store one day wondering which “effing” cereal I should buy for the week. From that point on, swearing became easy for me.
Swearing has its place. It may help establish rapport in some social groups (think of the smack talk in your fantasy football league), it may add humor to an otherwise tense situation, and it has been proven to relieve pain—when it’s not overused. But outside of such instances, I would like to make the case for a return to civility in our speech.
Keeping It Professional and Social
As a professional, I am being paid for my expertise and knowledge. I represent my employer’s mission, values, and product. Vague, inarticulate, and emotionally charged speech throws me off course and off topic. It serves no productive purpose, and ultimately devalues my company’s efforts to succeed.
In the classroom, I remind my students that as college graduates, they will find that others will expect them to be in full control of their knowledge and performance. Swearing undermines this power, revealing weakness and a lack of discipline.
My responsibility outside of work is to be a good egg, respectful and supportive of those around me: neighbors, friends, and relatives. We are at peace when we contribute to the conversation in a meaningful manner. Foul language has become cliché, losing its strength because it is empty, lacking definition. Each time I carelessly yield to swearing, I lose the opportunity to advocate my thoughts and feelings, and I surrender my power to whatever or whoever is challenging me.
I advise my students to exert their power over their community wisely: do not alienate or intimidate the people around you. Each one is a potential ally, eager to shower you his or her approval and affection if only given the chance.
Ill-Words and Ill-Health
I’ve noticed swearing affects my emotional and physical health. Did you know that the left side of the brain controls language, and the right side controls the emotional content of language? Animal instinct, which precludes thought, comes from deep within the brain. When we swear, we don’t task the left or right sides of our brain, but rather, we draw from that thoughtless part, where emotion runs amok. When we swear, we yield entirely to emotion. Our feelings become our reality.
Which do we want in our lives: the nightmare or the magical world where all things are possible?
In terms of physical well-being, I have noticed a correlation between my adoption of bad language and my subsequent weight gain and rise in stress. Because swearing springs from strong emotion, each time I swear, my body shifts into fight or flight mode, releasing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
Did you know cortisol tells our bodies to take emergency measures, going as far as to store belly fat for later use? Of course, our bodies don’t distinguish the difference between real emergencies and our self-induced drama. Why are we welcoming drama and stress into our lives? We’re worthy of so much more.
Swearing to Change?
I’m welcoming you to join me in the on-going battle against self-destructive language. We have each sought out education in an attempt to build better lives. Let’s exercise and channel that discipline we’ve worked so hard to master, so we may pause before reacting and instead consider the best word to reveal our minds and hearts to the world.
Elizabeth Sanchez is an English Instructor at California College San Diego, San Diego main campus, teaching composition and communication. Prior to her return to teaching, she worked as a creative designer for the sports and entertainment industry.