Your response to inappropriate talk will not be the same in each instance. You must take into account the people who are speaking inappropriately, your relationship with them, and even what is being said.
There are many kinds of inappropriate speech, including gossip, sarcasm, lying, vulgar stories, and profanity. Sometimes, among friends, all that’s needed is a gentle reminder. And sometimes, even when the offender is a total stranger, you may feel compelled to speak up, particularly if he or she is saying something cruel or untrue about someone else or is taking the Lord’s name in vain.
But if the students who are talking in an offensive way are not well known to you and you try to change their behavior by speaking up, they may see you as presumptuous. This approach might damage any chance you have to build a relationship with them—a relationship that might include sharing the gospel. In these circumstances, your best alternative may be to walk away from the conversation and try to set a good example without being judgmental.
If, on the other hand, these students are friends or classmates who know you fairly well, you may be able to express in a tactful way that their conversation is offensive to you. This approach may lead them to ask about your standards.
In most cases, how you express your feelings will greatly influence how they are received. Once when President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) was in the hospital, “he was being wheeled down the hall and into the operating room by a young orderly. The young man accidentally smashed his finger between the metal door frame and the metal frame of the bed on which lay the already-sedated prophet. When this mishap occurred, the young man, in pain, … took in vain the name of the Savior. The prophet stirred, opened his eyes, and gently rebuked the orderly, saying, ‘Young man, don’t say that; He’s my best friend!’” (Robert E. Wells, “Be a Friend, a Servant, a Son of the Savior,” Ensign, November 1982, 69). How could anyone feel offended by such a rebuke?
Perhaps the most useful counsel is to seek the Spirit’s guidance. Pray about how to deal with inappropriate speech. But be prepared to obey. Sometimes the right answer may not be the easy answer or the answer you desire.
“Avoid Evil Talk”
“Avoid evil talk. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. … It is not a mark of manhood [or womanhood] to carelessly use the name of the Almighty or His Beloved Son in a vain and flippant way, as many are prone to do.
“Choose your friends carefully. It is they who will lead you in one direction or the other. Everybody wants friends. Everybody needs friends. No one wishes to be without them. But never lose sight of the fact that it is your friends who will lead you along the paths that you will follow.
“While you should be friendly with all people, select with great care those whom you wish to have close to you. They will be your safeguards in situations where you may vacillate between choices, and you in turn may save them.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley (“A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Liahona, April 2001, 36–37)
In school I often retreated to a place where I could focus more on the things of God and on my academic work. In most cases, the library offered the best place of retreat. Remember, you cannot please God without upsetting Satan.
Lorenzo Nii Ashie Myers,
Cape Coast Second Ward, Cape Coast Ghana Stake
I teach 12- to 16-year-olds and have to hear swearing almost daily. My own students respect my opinion most of the time. If a curse slips off their lips, they usually apologize immediately.
I teach them from the beginning of school to respect others. I point out that they should think about what they are actually saying and whether they really mean it or want to say it.
Wettingen Ward, Zürich Switzerland Stake
My friends used to tell vulgar stories during break. At first I would just leave, but then I decided to be more forthright. I told them there were many good things to think and talk about. I explained that I didn’t want my mind filled with unprofitable things.
They all ignored my request to stop—except for my friend Ivette. Whenever others made inappropriate comments, she would say, “Go somewhere else.” Sometimes she went with me. Later she met with the full-time missionaries.
Suamny Milagros Cedano de Franco,
Villa Canales Branch, Guatemala City Guatemala Villa Hermosa Stake
Once during a study session, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I asked in a friendly way if my classmates could change the subject. When they refused, I left. I had to do this at every break. Later, they did show some consideration and even some interest. I told them what the Church means to me. Now my classmates do not discuss inappropriate subjects in my presence.
Berendina Jantje Wachtmeester,
Apeldoorn Ward, Apeldoorn Netherlands Stake
When the Prophet Joseph Smith was in jail and having to listen to the guards talk about horrible things, he spoke with such power those men asked his forgiveness. He had the courage to do what was right.
Giuliana Oliveira Giustiana,
Barão Geraldo Ward, Campinas Brazil Castelo Stake
We must reach out with love and talk to our friends about the teachings of the gospel. By doing this, we can help lead their thoughts away from inappropriate things.
Fasitoo Uta Ward, Upolu Samoa Faleasi’u Stake
Our years in school offer great opportunities to let our light of example shine (see Matt. 5:16). When our friends and classmates speak in a vulgar manner, we can gently redirect the conversation. Some may mock our beliefs, but others may be searching for an example to follow.
Alessandria Branch, Vercelli Italy District
We can ask our classmates to change the subject. If they don’t, we can walk away and find people who want to talk about edifying things. It is not as important for us to have a lot of friends at school as it is to keep gospel standards.
Coconut Creek Ward, Pompano Beach Florida Stake
If people talk about improper things, I ask myself what Jesus Christ would have me do. Then I bear my testimony to them about the blessings of living the gospel. I know we are blessed when we are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sery Jean Claude Appolinaire,
Toit Rouge Ward, Abidjan Ivory Coast Stake
High school was hard because of the language and behavior of my classmates. I would often go out into the hall so I wouldn’t have to hear inappropriate conversations. I fasted and asked Heavenly Father to touch their hearts so my classmates would respect me. And eventually that is what happened. When somebody would talk about inappropriate things, my friends would say, “Hey, Jezabel’s here.” They began to respect my standards, and I was able to give a copy of the Book of Mormon to two of them.
Jezabel Dana Álvarez,
Mayoraz Ward, Santa Fe Argentina North Stake
The prophet has counseled us not to have a “holier-than-thou” attitude toward those of other faiths. In most discussions there are positive expressions we can build on to share gospel truth.
Kenny Richard Ojulari,
Ademulegun Branch, Nigeria Lagos Mission