Inspire Or Enflame – The Power Of Words

When I was the not so sweet sixteen year old you see below, I thought my dad often talked a load of rubbish. Okay, I would not have used the term, ” load of rubbish ” as that expression has only crept into my daily language since marrying my British husband and moving to Cornwall, but it sounds nicer than what I actually said to him about his way of speaking when I was a teen with an opinion on everything.

Elizabeth Harper - Christmas 1976

I ridiculed my poor father unmercifully about the way he spoke every time he gave me what I saw as a lecture, choosing to focus on how he was speaking rather what he was saying. Looking back, I can see that he was trying to inspire, but his word choices then only enflamed the attitude of a teenage girl who could finally speak her mind without fear of being slapped in the mouth. Having moved to the safety of his home from my childhood house of horrors, I pushed almost every boundary that he and my poor step-mom suggested or imposed.

Soft spoken and always careful to use both good diction and the right words, if he lived here in the UK, one might be tempted to say his speech was a bit ” posh.” I remember many conversations where he would try to impress upon me the importance of speech and the perceptions of others particularly if one had a tendency to sprinkle too much color into a conversation with the use of what I would have referred to as swear words and he would have called profanity.

Pushed to his limit

My father died just over 20 years ago and I can’t remember how many times I’ve told this story since then. It’s been a funny way to share who he was with people who never had a chance to get to know him. People like my daughter Miranda who might have enjoyed a chat with him about her sometimes colorful speech had he lived.

Gene Harper WIth Granddaughter, Miranda

The only time I heard him swear

When I was dating my high school sweetheart, I was so ” Scott this and Scott that ” during those days that I’m sure my dad was concerned about the amount of time we were spending together. First loves can be life changing and I would bet that he was worried about the possibility of things like s-e-x and teen pregnancy.

He would never say it, but I think all of his talk of 11:00 curfews and the safety of not being out too late had something to do how often he would see us in a clinch like the photo above. I’m sure it made him nervous.

Once when I was arguing with him over my desire for a midnight curfew like everyone else, he launched into his safety talk again to which I countered smugly by saying that anything that could happen after 11:00 could also happen before.

I did not let it go at that, but kept pushing, whining on and on about how I was missing out on all the fun things that friends got to do who didn’t have to be in at such an early hour. We were driving down our long gravel driveway having just turned off the main road when I said something that pushed him over the edge and he slammed on the brakes making the car slide briefly on the loose rocks as he said, ” Dammit, Elizabeth! “

His voice went high in both pitch and volume with his temporary loss of control shocking him into silence. I don’t know what he was thinking in that frustrated moment having been pushed to the point of swearing which was something he never did in my presence and I would guess not at all. Seizing on the opportunity, I slipped in a comment that I thought was funny, but was actually condescending and sarcastic.

My response to my dad’s outburst

Feeling very sure of myself and my quick response, I lobbed a zinger at him saying, ” Pop, if I couldn’t swear any better than that, I wouldn’t do it! “

As you might imagine, this did not go over well and all conversations about curfew ended with my being grounded for the next month. No dates, no nothing, only school and church and a serious talk later about how not being able to find a better word than a swear one was a sign of a lack of intelligence.

Lack of intelligence

The lack of intelligence talk was one I had heard many times before when I tried to fold swear words into my casual conversations with my father. I can’t remember why I did it, I think shock value must have been a partial reason or wanting to feel as if I fit in with the crowd at school. It’s funny though, I don’t remember using bad language at school because I already knew on some level that the people I wanted to like me were not people who used trashy language.

My view now

I think my dad was partly right about swearing, but I also know that it’s never a black or white situation. The trouble for me occurs when people use it to shock. By people, I am referring in this situation to bloggers and writers I read online.

I find gratuitous swearing a distraction and dislike how it takes me out of the writer’s story. Not because I am prudish or never swear myself, but because based on the overall tone and style of the blogger, it just doesn’t fit. I think the test for me is if I am humming along totally into the writer’s words and bam, there it is, a word that doesn’t fit except in my mind to shock … I tend to lose interest in the blogger.

Which is really less about losing interest and more about losing trust

This is not to say that a writer can’t change their style and shake me up a bit, but it needs to flow, not hit me like a ball I didn’t see coming. If I’ve willingly gone to a baseball game, then I know there’s a chance a ball might come my way, but if I’m just walking past a grassy meadow, on a path I take regularly, and a ball comes out of nowhere and hits me in the head, then I tend to want to avoid walking past the meadow in the future. I might creep back from time to time, but I will certainly be on guard in a way that doesn’t allow me to relax into the story in the way the writer likely intended.

There are also those bloggers I read who are terribly funny and shocking with their bad language and wild stories. I may read in disbelief at times and wonder if sharing what they say and do on the internet might be troublesome later, but I enjoy them because I know what to expect.

Yesterday, I caught an unexpected hard ball to the head. It’s happened before with this blogger and I had gone back even though something was not really right for me. As I said earlier, when someone writes a particular way and then tosses out something that seems purely designed to draw a crowd, it’s like shouting fire when there is none and I don’t trust it. I think this writer has the power to influence and inspire and I am disappointed when it seems her goal is really to start a fire in order to see how many people show up.

As John said yesterday, that’s her choice and I agree with him. Likewise, I have a choice and after dodging one too many balls, I’m leaning towards not to reading her anymore.

I’m tempted to send her an email with a link to this post before I unsubscribe, but I’m not sure any healthy debate would come of it and I’m not interested in uncivil discourse. I am interested in hearing your thoughts. Have any of you encountered a similar situation and if so, what did you do? Did you say anything to the blogger or just disappear?

I think my dad would smile knowing that for all the times I was rolling my eyes and looking bored and disinterested at his talks on the power of words and choosing the right ones, I actually heard him.

Could it be the way he said it …