Voting vs. Swearing

Voting vs. Swearing

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This word is popular among Scrabble players.

B: Have you ever noticed that every time Election Day comes around, certain people get all hoity-toity about the fact that they voted, and that everyone else should too, and get after those who haven’t yet voted?

A: No.

B: Well I have.  And if you ask me, it’s a bit annoying.  Not that I don’t think that people should vote; on the contrary, people obviously should exercise this freedom to participate in the electoral process.  But then again, there’s a lot of things that people “should” do, that they aren’t, but you don’t see me getting on their case about those, now, do you?!

Really, it’s all just another of the many instances of self-righteousness.  Compare it to, say, admonishing others to not use profane language.  Just about everybody knows they shouldn’t swear, and yet plenty of people do anyway.  Personally, I don’t do it, not just because I shouldn’t, but also because I think it’s silly, since it really is just a case of following the crowd: the people who invented cuss words, whoever they were, are all long since dead, so nobody who swears today made up the words they curse by; therefore, they’re all just saying what a whole bunch of other people are saying.  In essence, people swear because they think that they will be seen as a certain type of person they want to be seen as, which may be anyone’s most basic definition of “following the crowd.”

But if I were to go around to everybody and say, “I don’t swear!  Do you swear?  You shouldn’t, if you know what’s good for you,” people would resent me for such seeming self-righteous behavior – even though what I’m promoting is something that most agree is a good thing, and even if I’m not saying it out of aloofness.  But how is this different from what goes on every Election Day?

The ironic thing is that, in my opinion, the elimination of swearing would do much more good for society than voting could, and yet self-righteousness about voting is probably more acceptable than it would be for swearing (or the promotion of any other virtue).  Your vote could make a difference in who is elected, but then again, it might not.  If it does make a difference, how much difference will the elected official make in your life, the lives of your family and friends, or society in general?

But imagine instead if everybody who voted also committed to cease swearing as well.  The absence of dirty language would suck out the associated dirty thoughts – which, had they been present, would have led to dirty actions and behaviors, which create somewhat unscrupulous characters and a filthy society full of them.  People may also be encouraged by their newfound ability to control themselves and seek to eliminate further bad behavior.  If it eventually happened that everybody in society was always on their best behavior, people would be more responsible, and domestic conflicts and violence would dwindle.  These examples are just the beginning of an endless list of good things that could result from the cessation of bad language.

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A: And everybody would have stomach ulcers from the stress that comes of always trying to be on one’s best behavior.

B: You think people swear just to relieve their stress?  There are many perfectly wholesome ways to relieve stress.  Furthermore, I’m not convinced that it’s impossible to both be on your best behavior and live free of stress.  It may take some getting used to, for some.

A: I don’t think breaking the swearing habit is quite as easy as voting is.

B: Of course it isn’t, but what difference does that make on whether or not it should be done?  You’ve hit on an issue that may be at the very heart of moral discipline, or self-control: we obey God’s commandments because it is “right,” meaning that it is the right direction to take toward God’s happiness, and regardless of whether it is easy to do so.  Sure, encouraging people to stop swearing, or to stop indulging in any vice, is asking them to do a hard thing, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

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A: There may be certain situations in which swearing is justified.  Like when it communicates a tone of “I mean it.”

B: There are other ways to express that tone.  For instance, physical assault.  Why shouldn’t that be thus justified?  Swearing can therefore be considered as verbal assault.  Furthermore, it conveys to those who hear our profanity the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to cuss, and perhaps not just in the context of “I mean it.”  Who knows, it may have been in this particular tone that swearing was first used, and those who heard it somehow thought it might be acceptable to use in certain circumstances, and when they did it themselves, the practice began to spread like wildfire.

A: What about all those pseudo-cuss words you use, like “heck” and “dagnab” and the like?  Might they not also yield ugly thoughts in innocent bystanders’ minds?

B: If so, then perhaps I should stop using those myself.  It would require me to exercise more self-control.  In fact, self-control is such a good thing that I don’t think one can ever have “too much” of it.

A: So are you a control freak?

B: “Control freaks” typically have very little self-control, actually; usually they criticize others for not doing what they want them to do – i.e., they really want to control others, and not necessarily themselves.  Those who have self-control, on the other hand, also have the discipline to respect other people’s agency.  When I refer to those who have self-control, I don’t mean the kind of guy who’s always edgy and high-strung with hyper-intensity.  Usually, people with self-control have a kind of “peace” about them: they have a calm demeanor and act with a sense of respect and dignity towards others, never raising their voices or losing their tempers, to name just a few of their attributes.

A: So wait a minute; I’m confused.  Are you saying we shouldn’t encourage people to vote or stop swearing?  Or the reverse?

B: Really, I’m just trying to expound upon the benefits of exercising self-control, and an example of that is in the kind of language we use.  It’s my belief that an overall improvement in self-control would have a more profound difference (for good) upon society than, say, voting does, and yet self-control doesn’t get nearly the press that voting does.  So if we’re going to say that voting is important – and it certainly is – then for heaven’s sake (literally), let’s remember that self-control is too.

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