And why New Year’s anyway? It’s just a date. There’s no more reason to make resolutions on that day than at any other time when one realizes a change is required.
And yet here I am making a resolution that happens to coincide with the start of a new year. Oops…
My resolution is simple to put into words, but difficult to sustain: I’m going to pay more attention to my language.
For one, I want to swear less.
“You, Keith? Swear less? Mr. Used to Play Rugby, Worked in Bars and Gas Stations, Swears Like a Sailor on Crack? You’re going to curse less? Really?”
I don’t have a problem with cursing. It fulfills critical functions: to blow off steam, to emphasize a point, even to alert someone to danger. But when it’s constant, it loses any value and simply becomes vile noise.
Not only that, but certain words (like the “b-word”) have ugly cultural connotations. While not every person who swears intends a political or social meaning (when people swear, the words mostly just come outin a mindless flow), many people find these words hurtful and offensive – and I don’t want to hurt anyone with my choice of vocabulary. In fact, I’m ashamed that I’ve used these words many times over the years.
On a lighter note, some swear words are worth saving. The f-word has a time and place, but it’s meaningless when it punctuates. Every. Single. Sentence. You know what the f*** I f***ing mean?
But this is the small and easy step. It’s going to be much more difficult to live up to this resolution: I am going to avoid negative, absolute and hateful language.
This one is hard in the current climate with a president (and enablers) who’ve dragged public discourse to an extreme low. It is so difficult not to respond in kind. I’ve found myself doing it (for example, referring to Trump by the nickname Jon Stewartgave him). When faced with blind ignorance and hate, the response is often (and justifiably) anger – and that often leads to lashing out by using the same kind of language.
And therein lies the problem: lowering ourselves to the level of a Donald Trump just further accelerates the downward spiral of hatred and mutual recrimination. It doesn’t matter whether one is “right” or “wrong”: referring to someone with an obscenity (no matter how hateful, ignorant or simply factually wrong they may be) drags us all down. (And for the record, while Trump may hold the dubious distinction of most vile, there’s plenty of vitriol tossed out across the political spectrum, including by the liberal left, as the recent example of Michigan Rep. Tlaib demonstrates.)
So I’m going to make my microscopic contribution to slowing this descent into vitriolic mayhem. I will engage in reasonable discussion about policy and issues, I will point out factual errors, I will cite data, but I will not engage with insult. I will not respond to trolls. I will avoid absolute positions since most issues are too nuanced and complex to lend themselves to simple answers.
I know what you’re thinking: “These ______ people are nasty. If we don’t push back, they’ll walk all over us.” It reminds of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, in which one of the characters comments (to paraphrase) that Nazis respond better to baseball bats than biting satire. I get that: faced with venom and deliberate nastiness, one may want to pick up a baseball bat – or at least to take a few written or verbal swings of the bat.
This is what many of these people are looking for: the response, the overreaction, the lowering to their level. Don’t give it to them. Take the high road. Believe in the brighter angels of our nature.
After all, if taking the high road doesn’t work, we can always march.