Speaking of... Life, Hope & Truth

Profanity and Character: Does It Matter?

Well, to no one’s surprise, it’s happened again. In the midst of all of the Super Bowl celebrations, one of the game’s finest athletes has, as the media likes to put it, “dropped the F-bomb.” For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it means that an individual has boldly and publicly uttered one of the vilest curse words known to man.

It isn’t so much the word itself that disturbs us—after all, we’ve all heard it at some point or another. Yet many of us find it shocking because of the blatant disregard and disrespect the speaker shows for everyone who hears this kind of language. Why would someone in the public spotlight—at a time when his abilities are being celebrated—choose to deliberately use language he knew would be offensive to many of those who heard him?

Leaving this specific incident behind, what does profanity tell us about the character of such an individual?

It was January of 1940 when audiences of the movie Gone With the Wind first heard an actor, Clark Gable, speak what would today be considered a rather mild expletive. Sadly, in the decades since that line was crossed, profanity has moved into the mainstream. Politicians of all stripes—presidents, past and present—nominal leaders in every field have continued to lower the bar of basic human decency and dignity. Today even women, who used to respectfully be referred to as “ladies,” can be as crude and boorish as the worst of men.

Some seem to think that “real men” always talk that way; that profanity is a sign of strength and manhood. Yet history shows us that the greatest men of the past did not need to use vulgar, disgusting language to be heard or respected.

Hollywood seems to think everyone speaks that way all the time. I don’t know—maybe in Hollywood they do. But out here in the flyover states, there are still many people who believe that having a mouth that reeks with the stench of a verbal sewer is just not all that impressive.

Hearing the sad example from some of today’s athletic superstars takes me back to a high school practice field many years ago. Among our players was a wiry, tough farm kid named Olaf—we called him Oly. In one scrimmage Oly was blindsided and knocked to the ground; and our big fullback, Moose, ran right up his back with those big, hard cleats. Virtually everyone, including the coach, saw what happened; and we expected Oly to get up cursing. We were all watching as Oly jumped up, looked around, and with fire in his eyes said, “Boy, that hurt!” We all, including the coach, nearly fell over laughing. It was funny, but in that one moment, that tough farm boy won a lot of respect because he chose to control his words instead of letting his emotions control him.

Those who wish to be Christians find a great deal in Scripture about right ways and wrong ways of speaking. Christians are told to “let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” We are told that by our words we will be justified and by our words we will be condemned. And most of all, we are told that the words of our mouths—especially those spoken in times of duress—actually reveal what is in our hearts. We may not be able to look at a person and know his personal standards, but the words he allows himself to speak often tell us everything we need to know about his character.

Regardless of what athletes, actors or politicians may choose to say, we are all ultimately accountable to God for the choices we make.

What do your words reveal about you? No one has the power to make you say or refrain from saying one single word, but the choices you personally make reveal a great deal about the kind of person you are.

For Life, Hope, & Truth, I’m David Johnson.