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I swear!
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 08/02/2010

No profanity Chances are you will hear swearing every single day while you work in corrections. To most, it is not unusual. In fact, it is as normal part of the job as a burn is to a fry cook. But profanity can polarize staff and cause bigger problems than initially suspected.

Before I go on, I must issue a few disclaimers.

None of this is a personal crusade on my part that seeks to control language. This is not an attempt at suppression. Rather, I believe that this is a topic that should be considered for our overall collective benefit.

Also, I have to admit that I can curse with the best of them. Rather than have the persistent monster of hypocrisy stare me down, I admit that I am far from perfect. I am not an innocent figure who refrains from blue language. And I think that I know why.

You see, my father was an artist, in a way. He could craft a series of expletives in a very unique and unforgettable manner. His creativity with profanity was, in a word, awesome. His was not the run of the mill curse, but an inventive way to swear. He was not an ignorant man. In fact, he had a very sharp wit, peppered with “bad words” Perhaps this is a world gone by and he belonged to the golden age of vulgarity.

Let us now consider the powerful impact of words. Our workplace is often the stage for problems. And these problems are exacerbated over some hot words. Here are a few thoughts:

Profanity knocks us off our squares. When we use profanity to counter profanity, we are led by others. We are lured into using shocking words rather than the force of the logic and policy that we defend. Not using profanity shows a large measure of control. Those that would argue with us have then to focus on the message rather than the delivery and the terms in which it is wrapped.

The use of words that are generally regarded as profane have a tendency to escalate any argument. Those words intensify anger and obscure the message. And it usually does not plateau. The argument, fueled by expletives, continues to gain momentum.

Profanity can be hurtful. Granted, on the face of it, it seems funny. Many may recall Comedian George Carlin’s compilation of the list of seven words that you cannot say on television. This was a very funny and thoughtful analysis of how we curse. Later, he put together a longer list, written on a very long scroll. It took him many minutes to read the additions. But in reality, he was attacking a concept, not a specific individual. When certain words are used to focus on individuals, that is when the hurt begins. Profane verbal attacks demean the individual.

Profanity can lead to time consuming endeavors. Sometimes investigations are launched over words that are construed as demeaning or of a sexual tone. What starts as a joke or a different sort of expression can become harassment.

Whether we like it or not, we are role models. And while I do not believe that a moratorium on staff swearing will magically eradicate offender swearing, I think that limited cursing will bring about a higher level of respect. Respectful language facilitates respectful behavior.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who champion “pure language”. In principle they are correct. However, zealots can draw unwarranted attention to themselves. So, it is a matter of how one delivers the anti-profanity message. If it is done in a self-righteous, condescending manner, respect is fleeting. The cursing enthusiast and the pure language crusader are often guilty of withholding respect from one another. This is a case of a coin with a clean side and a dirty side. But it remains that this is a coin of disrespect. Therefore, some crusaders for good language are not really absolved of fault.

Is it realistic to think that profanity will disappear from our worksites? That will never happen. But, we can control what comes out of our mouths. It is a simple matter of modifying habits and thinking before speaking.

A colleague of mine uses very precise language and never swears. She tells me that it is her professional imperative to keep her language clean. In fact, staff at her worksite continually work to get her to utter the apex of profanity – the dreaded F-bomb. She is somewhat amused by this and sees it as a game. And her work persona is such that other staff respect this, even if there is an occasional good-natured ribbing on the matter.

Whatever the nuances of the worksite, her fortitude cannot be denied. And sticking faithfully to any principle demonstrates good corrections professionalism.

I swear that this is true!

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