Lesson 47: Clean and Appropriate Speech

Aaronic Priesthood Manual 2, (1993), 181–86


Objective

Each young man will desire to use clean and appropriate speech at all times.

Preparation

  1. 1.

    Materials needed: scriptures for each young man.

  2. 2.

    Prepare from the handout titled “Four Stories” a copy of each of the four stories found at the beginning of the lesson. Assign a different young man to prepare and read each story in priesthood meeting.

  3. 3.

    Write each of the following scriptural references on a separate piece of paper. Be sure they are numbered.

  4. 4.

    Review the counsel about language on pages 10 and 11 of For the Strength of Youth.

Note

The Savior taught that it is not what a man eats that defiles or makes him unclean but the evil thoughts, words, and actions that come from his heart (see Matthew 15:17–18).

This lesson should remind each young man that it is important to control what he says and that profanity, vulgar talk, and dirty stories or jokes have no place in the vocabulary of a priesthood holder.

Suggested Lesson Development

Profanity Is a Disease

Story

“In the summer of 1939, two friends and myself, all of us teachers in the Aaronic Priesthood, were hired at a packing shed in Mesa, Arizona. As we worked we talked and laughed a great deal; but, sad to say, the language was usually rough and the jokes unwholesome. There was a fourth young man on our crew, though, who did not join in the swearing and the jokes, and during a breakdown on the conveyer, I asked him why. His answer was like a hit between the eyes. He said, ‘I belong to the Pentecostal Church. We don’t believe it’s right to do those things.’

“The rest of the morning was rather quiet, and at lunch time three ashamed Mormon boys sought a quiet place apart from the others. The general feeling was, ‘Here we are, holders of the priesthood of God, and it takes someone else to set a good example for us. What are we going to do about it?’ We agreed then and there that if any one of us used a bad word, the other two would punch him on the arm.

“There were three young teachers with sore arms for a while, but we did succeed in helping each other whip this bad habit. I have always been grateful for that” (Richard T. Harris, letter to the editor, Ensign, July 1981, p. 73).

Stories

Have the young men previously assigned relate the unhappy experiences told by President Spencer W. Kimball. As the young men listen, ask them to recall similar experiences they might have had.

Story 1

“I lately picked up a book, widely circulated, highly recommended, a best-seller, and my blood ran cold at the profane and vulgar conversations therein, and I cringed as the characters used in an ugly way the sacred names of Deity” (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Profanity,” Ensign, Feb. 1981, p. 4).

Story 2

“A group of young basketball players climbed aboard the bus on which I was riding. They seemed to vie with each other to see who could curse most viciously. Perhaps they had learned it from older men. I know they did not fully realize the seriousness of their words” (“President Kimball,” p. 4).

Story 3

“At the beach one day a group of youth had driven their car too far out in the sand, and it was imbedded deeply. All their combined strength seemed insufficient to dislodge it. I offered to assist, but the vile language they were using repelled me” (“President Kimball,” p. 4).

Story 4

“Sometime ago I saw a drama enacted on the stage of a San Francisco theater. The play had enjoyed a long, continuous run in New York. But the actors, unworthy to unloose the latchets of the Lord’s sandals, were blaspheming his sacred name in their common, vulgar talk. They repeated words of a playwright, words profaning the holy name of their Creator. The people laughed and applauded, and as I thought of the writer, the players, and the audience, the feeling came to me that all were party to the crime” (“President Kimball,” p. 4).

Discussion

Allow the young men to relate any similar experiences they may have had.

  • How do such situations make you feel?

Some young men may reveal that it is so commonplace they don’t feel anything. This reaction will only strengthen your next point.

Story

Explain that the following story is from the experiences of Elder Boyd K. Packer.

“A number of years ago I went with a brother to tow in a wrecked car. It was a single car accident, and the car was demolished; the driver, though unhurt, had been taken to the hospital for treatment of shock and for examination.

“The next morning he came asking for his car, anxious to be on his way. When he was shown the wreckage, his pent-up emotions and disappointment, sharpened perhaps by his misfortune, exploded in a long stream of profanity. So obscene and biting were his words that they exposed years of practice with profanity. His words were heard by other customers, among them women, and must have touched their ears like acid.

“One of my brothers crawled from beneath the car, where he had been working with a large wrench. He too was upset, and with threatening gestures of the wrench (mechanics will know that a 16-inch crescent wrench is a formidable weapon), he ordered the man off the premises. ‘We don’t have to listen to that kind of language here,’ he said. And the customer left, cursing more obscenely than before.

“Much later in the day he reappeared, subdued, penitent, and avoiding everyone else, he found my brother.

“‘I have been in the hotel room all day,’ he said, ‘lying on the bed tormented. I can’t tell you how utterly ashamed I am for what happened this morning. My conduct was inexcusable. I have been trying to think of some justification, and I can think of only one thing. In all my life, never, not once, have I been told that my language was not acceptable. I have always talked that way. You were the first one who ever told me that my language was out of order.’

“Isn’t it interesting that a man could grow to maturity, the victim of such a vile habit, and never meet a protest? How tolerant we have become, and how quickly we are moving. A generation ago writers of newspapers, editors of magazines, and particularly the producers of motion pictures carefully censored profane and obscene words.

“Carefully (we are always led carefully), profanity has inched and nudged and pushed its way relentlessly into the motion picture and the magazine, and now even newspapers print verbatim comments, the likes of which would have been considered intolerable a generation ago.

“Like the man in the shop, many of us may never have been told how serious an offense profanity can be. Ere we know it we are victims of a vile habit—and the servant to our tongue” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1967, pp. 126–27; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1967, p. 96).

Discussion

  • How do you suppose people can use profanity and offensive language without knowing that it bothers others or is wrong?

  • Why do many people who are offended by swearing or improper language not say anything to the offender?

Point out that, although someone may swear frequently or use other inappropriate language and not think about it, those around him judge him by what they hear and see. They may not know more about him and his thoughts than the language he uses, and the person who speaks or writes inappropriately can never inspire a very favorable impression.

You may want to read and discuss the counsel about language on pages 10 and 11 of For the Strength of Youth.

Our Speech Reveals What Is in Our Heart

Scriptures, chalkboard, and discussion

Explain that the young men are now going to find out what the Lord has said about profanity.

Give each young man one of the scriptural references you have prepared. Have them find and mark the place until they are called to read aloud.

Ask for scriptures 1 and 2 to be read.

Write the word vain on the chalkboard.

  • What does it mean to take the Lord’s name in vain?

Vain means without real value or importance, hollow, idle, worthless, useless, without good result. Write these definitions on the chalkboard.

  • Do any of these words apply to God, our Father, or to Jesus Christ, our Savior?

Remind the young men that the way we use the Lord’s name reveals how we feel about him. If we truly love and respect him, we will not allow ourselves to profane his name.

  • When is it appropriate to use the Lord’s name?

Ask for scripture 3 to be read.

Discuss this verse with the young men, pointing out that we may appropriately use the Lord’s name with care when we have the authority to speak in his name, as in reverent prayer and when the Spirit prompts us.

Quotation

Share the following statement from President Spencer W. Kimball: “Speaking the Lord’s name with reverence must simply be part of our lives as members of the Church. For example, we, as good Latter-day Saints, do not smoke. We do not drink. We do not use tea and coffee. By the same token, we do not use foul language. We do not curse or defame. We do not use the Lord’s name in vain” (“President Kimball,” p. 5).

Scriptures and discussion

  • Is it possible for a Latter-day Saint to use unclean language consistently and have a pure heart? Why not?

Have the young men read and discuss scriptures 4, 5, and 6 to help answer this question.

Help the young men understand that our mouths let out what is in our hearts. A pure heart does not speak unclean words.

Quotation

Tell the young men that Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that “profanity is an evidence of a diseased soul” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966], p. 602).

Our Speech Reveals Our Weaknesses

Quotations and discussion

  • What personal weaknesses does vulgarity reveal?

Read the following statement from Bishop H. Burke Peterson:

“Some demonstrate or express a personal weakness when they tell jokes or stories about the body and its functions, when they joke about or make suggestive comments concerning women or girls, when they are casual about sacred things. …

“Some contribute to this personal weakness when they read or experience filthy magazines, vulgar movies or television shows, or remain in a group where unclean discussions occur. Each of these kinds of experiences will weaken any spirit, will make it less able to withstand ‘the fiery darts’ of the adversary” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1980, p. 56; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 38).

  • What else does a person reveal about himself when he uses unclean speech?

Point out that swearing to express ourselves reveals our lack of self-control, our lack of skill in using the proper words to communicate, and our lack of regard for others.

Remind the young men that our bad example in what seems to us a small transgression may encourage others to relax their standards in more serious things. As Latter-day Saints we should always try to live above reproach, to build and uplift our brother in every way possible.

Elder Charles Didier said: “Words are a form of personal expression. They differentiate us as well as fingerprints do. They reflect what kind of person we are, and tell of our background, and depict our way of life. They describe our thinking as well as our inner feelings” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1979, p. 35; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 25).

We Can Control Our Verbal Environment

Chalkboard and discussion

  • Why do some young men use bad language?

Write the young men’s answers on the chalkboard. They may include habit, not thinking it’s wrong, lack of self-control, seeking attention, seeking acceptance, not knowing a better way to express feelings.

Have the young men rank in order the three main reasons young men use bad language.

Take time to discuss each reason the young men suggest, asking in each case, “Why is this not a good reason?” The young men themselves can provide the answers. Write their responses on the chalkboard.

  • What are some ways the problem of bad language can be eliminated? (Personal commitment, prayer, memorizing scriptures and hymns, scripture study, concentrating on positive and uplifting thoughts, self-control, finding more constructive ways of getting attention.)

Explain that if the problem is simply a bad habit the young men would like to break, Elder Packer offered a suggestion—that they agree to pay each other a certain amount of money every time they use bad language (see Conference Report Oct. 1980, p. 57; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, p. 39).

Story and challenge

Challenge the young men to set a good example by using clean and appropriate speech at all times and to expect the same from others. Read the following story told by Elder Dallin H. Oaks:

“The Book of Mormon teaches us that when we are brought before the judgment bar of God ‘our words will condemn us … and our thoughts will also condemn us’ (Alma 12:14). Let us recognize profanity and vulgarity for what they are. They are sins that separate us from God and cripple our spiritual defenses by causing the Holy Ghost to withdraw from us.

“We should abstain … from all such expressions.

“We can also encourage our associates to do likewise. Where we have the courage to make a friendly request … we will often receive a respectful and cooperative reply. Our married daughter who lives in Illinois had such an experience. As she took her turn car pooling the twelve-year-olds home from a soccer game, her noisy passengers filled the air with profanity. Firmly, but with good humor, she told the boys, ‘In our family we only use that name when we worship, so we ask you, please don’t say that name disrespectfully in our car.’ The boys immediately complied, and what is even more surprising, most of them still remembered the next time it was her turn to drive” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, p. 65; or Ensign, May 1986, p. 52).

  • How can we teach our peers without offending them?

Explain that once we decide what we will and will not tolerate, others will be encouraged to follow our example. We can state our position in a kind, friendly way, being careful not to embarrass or belittle the offender.

Activity

A group of young people from the Heber Utah East Stake decided there was something they could do about all the swearing in their community. They planned a series of activities to bring their campaign to the attention of the townspeople. They wore buttons and T-shirts with the initials “K.S.H.,” meaning “Kick the Swearing Habit.” They talked to Primary classes, made a parade float, held poster contests, and held a party for anyone who didn’t swear during the campaign. The whole campaign ended with a testimony meeting. Many people were affected and a decline of the profanity habit resulted (see “Concerned Youth Launch Campaign to Stop Profanity,” Church News, 21 Oct. 1978, p. 11).

Divide the quorum into small groups of three or four and give them a few minutes for a brainstorm session. Their challenge is to answer the question, “What can you do to help yourself and others use clean language?” keeping in mind the above suggestions and the counsel in For the Strength of Youth.

Conclusion

Challenge

If time permits let the young men share the ideas from their brainstorming sessions. Challenge them to pick out one or two ideas to follow during the week.