A number of years ago I went with a brother to tow in a wrecked car. It had been 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 him 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!
A generation ago writers of newspapers, editors of magazines, and particularly the producers of motion pictures carefully censored profane and obscene words.
All that has now changed. It began with the novel. Writers, insisting that they must portray life as it is, began to put into the mouths of their characters filthy, irreverent expressions. These words on the pages of books came before the eyes of all ages and imprinted themselves on the minds of our youth.
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.
“Why not,” they ask, “show life as it is?” They even say it is hypocritical to do otherwise. “If it is real, why hide it? You can’t censor that which is real!”
Why hide it? Why protest against it? Many things that are real are not right.
Disease germs are real, but must we therefore spread them? A pestilent infection may be real, but ought we to expose ourselves to it? Those who argue that so-called real life is license must remember that where there’s an is, there’s an ought. Frequently what is and what ought to be are far apart. When is and ought come together, an ideal is formed. The reality of profanity does not argue for the toleration of it.
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. The scriptures declare:
“Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
“Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. …
“For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
“But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
“Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:3–5, 7–10.)
There is something on this subject I would tell young people who are forming the habit patterns of their lives.
Take, for example, the young athlete and his coach. I single out the coach, for to him, as to few others, a boy will yield his character to be molded.
Young athlete, it is a great thing to aspire for a place on the team. A young man like you is willing to give anything to belong. Your coach becomes an ideal to you; you want his approval and to be like him. But remember, if that coach is in the habit of swearing, if he directs the team with profane words or corrects and disciplines the athletes with obscenities, that is a weakness in him, not a strength. That is nothing to be admired or to be copied. It is a flaw in his character. While it may not seem a big one, through that flaw can seep contamination sufficient to weaken and destroy the finest of characters, just as a disease germ can lay low the well-framed, athletically strong physical body.
Coach, there are men in the making on the practice field. Haven’t you learned that when a boy wants so much to succeed and he hasn’t pleased you, silence is more powerful than profanity?
While this counsel may apply to other professions, I single you out, coach, because of your unparalleled power of example (and perhaps because the lesson is needed).
There is no need for any of us to use profanity. Realize that you are more powerful in expression without it.
Nobody needs to profane!
On one occasion, two of our children were at odds. A four-year-old boy, irritated beyond restraint by an older brother but with no vocabulary of profanity to fall back upon, forced out his lower lip and satisfied the moment with two words: “You ugly!”
Nobody needs to swear!
Because of little protest many of us, like the man in the shop, may have fallen victim to the habit of profanity. If this has been your misfortune, I know a way that you can break the habit quickly. This is what I suggest you do: Make an agreement with someone not in your family, but someone who works closely with you. Offer to pay him $1, or $2, even $5 each time he hears you swear. For less than $50 you can break the habit.
Smile if you will; you will find it is a very practical and powerful device.
There is a compelling reason beyond courtesy or propriety or culture for breaking such a habit. Profanity is more than just untidy language, for when we profane we relate to low and vulgar words the most sacred of all names. I wince when I hear the name of the Lord so used, called upon in anger, in frustration, in hatred.
This is more than just a name we deal with. This relates to spiritual authority and power and lies at the very center of Christian doctrine. The Lord said, “Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name.” (3 Ne. 27:7.)
In the church that Jesus Christ established, all things are done in His name: prayers are said, children are blessed, testimonies borne, sermons preached, ordinances performed, sacrament administered, the infirm anointed, and graves are dedicated.
What a mockery it then becomes when we use that sacred name profanely.
If you need some feeling for the seriousness of the offense, next time you hear such an expression or you are tempted to use one yourself, substitute the name of your mother or your father or your child or your own name. Perhaps then the insulting and degrading implications will be borne into you, to have a name you revere so used. Perhaps then you will understand the fourth commandment: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” (Ex. 20:7.)
However common irreverence and profanity become, they are nonetheless wrong. We teach our children so. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we revere His name. We worship in His name. We love Him.
“Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.
“Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
“And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.
“Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.” (3 Ne. 18:18–21.)
The authority to use his name has been restored. The disease of profanity, now in epidemic proportions, is spreading across the land, and so, in His name, we pray that a purity of heart might descend upon us, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.