During My freshman year in college, a fellow student surprised me with a rebuke. Most students were from the small towns and rural areas surrounding the school. This young man was from a city - a city generally known, I thought, for lack of refinement. I was amazed when he said to me, "I've heard you say words no lady should lay her tongue to." I might have dismissed this as a sexist remark, but there was something in me that was ready for the criticism.
My father had quite a "vocabulary," and I had unknowingly adopted it. But he really disliked this habit of using profanity and often chided himself, saying, "Swearing is the effect of an ignorant mind trying to express itself." I turned a corner that freshman year and began to watch my words. Daddy must have found his freedom, too, because I don't remember him using profanity during his latter days.
Today, the fact that many are concerned with what has been called the "coarsening" of America is encouraging. We not only are insulted by much that we hear and see but also are ashamed that this is what we are exporting. It represents the worst elements of our culture, and misrepresents most Americans.
Because of my own experience, I feel that there is a yearning in the heart of humanity for refinement and better words and thoughts. Do we not inwardly pray the sentiments of a biblical psalmist? "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer" (Ps. 19:14).
As a Christmas gift for the past four or five years, members of my family have read a play and recorded it for me. This year, when I put it on the tape player and discovered what they had chosen, I was more than a little surprised because the play as I knew it was filled with vile language. As I listened to the first few lines, I realized they had cleaned up the language.
They'd had great fun doing this and said it hadn't been difficult. The first line that needed cleaning up was in the role my daughter was playing, and she substituted an acceptable word without missing a beat. When I asked her how she had edited it so naturally and easily, she answered that it came from years of reading aloud to kindergartners. She often would have to replace a scary or unfamiliar word.
Later, as I listened to the whole play, I enjoyed the hilarity that sometimes accompanied their edits and realized the story line of the play had not been altered. I have always been a believer in artistic freedom and have justified foul language from the standpoint of realism. I certainly don't advocate covering up difficult situations as all sweetness and light. But this experience has made me question the necessity to endure what is offensive.
Maybe I have a right, even an obligation, to protect my own innocence as children are protected by caring parents. I have vowed to respond to the coarsening of our culture by means other than acceptance, which may include more than just clicking off an objectionable program.
Today some zealous guardians of First Amendment rights are looking at the possibility of governmental censorship, particularly in the area of the public media. Words that were once bleeped out are blatantly broadcast. The Internet has become the medium for vulgarity worldwide. Such pulling down of standards is as obnoxious to most of us as the sacrificing of the freedom of speech to governmental regulations.
The solution, as in the case of most cultural changes, lies in individual commitment to uplifting our own moral behavior as expressed in our words and our thoughts.
The founder of this newspaper wrote a textbook, whose high standards not only still govern the paper but also elevate its readers. Of course this textbook of Christian Science, by Mary Baker Eddy, does much more.
The last chapter of this book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," is a hundred pages of testimonies from readers. Included there are two readers' expression of thanks for gaining freedom from the use of profanity (see pgs. 671, 679).
As we individually find the strength from God to resist the coarsening of words and thoughts, we will help improve our collective culture.