Making the varsity basketball team in junior high school was probably the most exciting athletic achievement of my life. Just being part of the team and working out with the other players was a thrill.
I still remember what happened one day during a practice session. One of our teammates missed a pass. Then, a few minutes later, he made another error. This time he swore, and our coach heard him.
Now, Coach Fishburn was the most outstanding man I had ever met. He was bright, and he knew basketball and young men. After the practice, the coach called us together to talk about our practice. And he brought up the subject of profanity. “A good athlete never needs to swear,” he said. “Swearing only cheapens the athlete and makes him look weak. Men of greatness have no need for foul language—it only makes them look small in the eyes of other people.”
Although my basketball career was brief, Coach Fishburn’s words have always stayed with me. “Men [and women] of greatness have no need of foul language.”
Recently, this news was heard on the radio: “Scientists announced today that they have developed a new way to see inside the human brain.” The story was about one of those new high-tech machines being used to diagnose illness.
But here’s some news for the scientists. Every time someone opens his mouth, he reveals what is going on in his brain. In fact, this low-tech method is so accurate that you can see even deeper than the brain. You get a glimpse of what the person’s spirit is like. It’s true. The words you use and the way you speak are like a blueprint of who you are deep inside.
After speaking with a person for a short while, don’t you begin to form an impression that may last for years? The same thing happens when others listen to you. They form impressions of you that can have long-lasting effects. If what they hear is uplifting, they think well of you and of what you represent. But if what they hear is profane or derogatory …
I know of a man named Tom who agreed to drive his son Michael and some of Michael’s soccer teammates to their Saturday game. The boys were noisy, and Tom was getting frustrated trying to find a playing field he had never been to before. Unable to concentrate on his driving, Tom ran into another car. The accident was minor, but Tom let his frustration out in profanity.
Later that afternoon, young Michael asked his mother if his dad was a member of the Church. Michael had been taught that good Mormons don’t swear. His mother was surprised and said, “Of course your father is a Church member.”
“Well, Dad may be a Mormon, but I know he is not a Cub Scout!” Michael replied.
Would someone listening to you ever think, “Well, he may be a Mormon, but he sure isn’t a Christian”?
Profanity does no good, only harm. And because many people find profanity offensive and degrading, you are showing insensitivity when you use it. People may endure profanity, but they are seldom impressed, and they usually have less respect for the profaner.
Besides swearing, there are other kinds of words that are just as harmful—maybe even more so. They are words which abuse people because of their race, because of a physical handicap, or because they just don’t quite fit in with the group. Using such words surely offends our Savior, who loves everyone regardless of race, physical appearance, or social standing.
Of course, the most offensive language is that which defames Deity. Vainly using the names of our Father in Heaven and our Savior is a sin of great proportion (see Ex. 20:7). Certainly the Lord is offended when we denigrate his name.
Instead, we are told to praise God and to pray to him. Prayer is the most beautiful form of communication. The exact opposite of profanity, it, too, reveals your innermost being. As the hymn says, prayer expresses the “soul’s sincere desire” (see Hymns, 1985, number 145).
Can you imagine the words Jesus spoke to the Father while he was among the Nephites after his resurrection? Could any language be more beautiful than a prayer from the Savior to the Father? “No tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak” (3 Ne. 17:17).
So we have seen the opposite ends of the vocal expression spectrum. The lowest end is when we are profane and when we use the Lord’s name vainly; the highest end is when we are sincerely praying to our Father in Heaven.
In a letter to the Church in 1887, the First Presidency stated: “The habit, which some young people fall into, of using vulgarity and profanity is one which should receive attention. … The practice is not only offensive to all well-bred persons, but is a gross sin in the sight of God and should not exist among the children of the Latter-day Saints.”
Missionaries are told they have only one chance to make a first impression. What they say and how they say it will tell the potential Church member much about them, their family, and the Church. It is no different for each of us. Language is the way we tell one another how we feel about them and how we feel about ourselves.
In many ways, our words describe our thoughts and who we really are. As members of the Lord’s church, let us always be aware that the Lord and others are listening.