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The Power of Words

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Profanity is rapidly replacing English as the language of the American people. It is truly saddening to hear those around us punctuate sentences, clauses and even phrases with four-letter words. Profanity and swearing reflect the ‘dumbing down’ of today’s ‘civilized’ society in America. These insulting cuss-words are just a step away from hate speech, verbal abuse, sexual harassment and repulsive obscenity. 

The huge increase of profanity and offensive language happened at the same time America was promoting self-expression and individualism. Individualism emphasizes the “ME” and very few social rules go with the “ME”. When people started to express themselves more and more, social rules fell away, and profanity and swearing took over. The “Common Good” and “We’re all in this together!” seem to now be a thing of the past. 

Most people don’t realize it, but profanity is the language of violence and war.

Some people say, words can’t hurt you. Words CAN hurt you. Words can dehumanize another person. That’s why in war the enemy is always described in language that is dehumanizing. You will never hear the military referring to the enemy as “brothers and sisters,” or as “children of God.” They couldn’t kill them if they referred to them that way. You use language that describes the enemy as less than human.

That is precisely what has happened in America today. The language that is used in our country today is the language that has been coined in warfare. As bad as four-letter words are, phrases that demean and dehumanize others are just as bad. There are words that make life cheap and ugly. There are words that hurt people. There are words that profane what is good, sacred and holy about human life. Every time you use them, they will affect your life, and the lives of those around you.

We witnessed the stark reality of what profanity does and what profanity leads to in the recent political campaign. The TV networks had to continually bleep the language of certain candidates and especially those who attended their rallies. From the profanity and the course language of those attending the rallies, there was no mistaking the fact that they were at war, at war with their fellow Americans. If the profanity, the language of war that we use every day, is so common, then why are we so surprised at the battle that ensued at the Capital on January 6th?

What eventually winds up at the Capital in Washington starts with each one of us. When I was in my late 20’s I started using four-letter words on the golf course when I hooked a drive out of bounds or into the water. My priest-classmate partner never said anything. But after a couple of years, I began to question myself, “Why was I using such language? That is not who I am.” 

On occasion, it was not just on the golf course that I began using such language. I started questioning myself not because I was a priest or a Christian. I started questioning myself because I was a human being! Why was I demeaning myself and others? What was wrong with shouting, “Son-of-a-gun” as I had done for years when my shot went out of bounds or in the water? What was wrong with telling someone, “You know, I’ve had it!” and just leave it at that? Fortunately for me, it was not too long before my humanity won out and I cleaned up my act. Honestly, I feel so much better about who I am as a human being!

We are only two days removed from February 22nd and George Washington’s birthday. We call him the “Father of our country” not simply because he was the first in line of our 46 Presidents or his face is on our one dollar bills. He is the Father of our country because he exemplifies the qualities and the behavior that all Americans  should follow. 

In the toughest and bloodiest of days of the Revolutionary War in 1776, George Washington issued an order to his troops against cursing, when he said, “General Washington is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice hitherto little known in our American Army, is growing into fashion.” Here was the Father of our country not wanting the language of war to ever be used in the Revolutionary War, the War of Freedom. Did Washington fashion us to be a different kind of people? 

The days of Lent are not just days to give up profanity and demeaning talk. They are days to do soul-searching as to WHY certain words come out of your mouth? Do you really want to be the person that sets such an ugly tone for others around you? Do you want to be that person who uses words of war against family members, neighbors and fellow Americans you see on TV and on the internet? 

It is so much better to use words that heal. You can use words that build. You can use words that create. You can use words that unite. You can use words that redeem. You can use words that can reconcile you to someone from whom you are estranged. You can use words that change the tone. You can use words that will lead you and others to heaven, like Jesus did: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” 


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