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 …

9 thoughts on “Inspire Or Enflame – The Power Of Words

  1. Of course, now I want to know who said what! But I understand your comments about language. WHen I was younger, especially working on Wall Street, everyone used the F-bomb on the trading floor. And even now there are times when a swear word slips into my conversation, although ironically it’s usually said in jest, in a mock-angry way rather than in seriousness. Like you, and perhaps your dad, I’ve found that as I’ve grown older I just don’t want to use or hear an abundance of swear words.

    As to that blog….of course, I’m trying to figure out who you’re talking about and even recalled my last post to see if it was me. Certainly everyone is free to express themselves as they wish on their blogs. However, I recall a couple years ago reading a blog that was quite popular, but which I finally stopped reading not for the swear words, but for the topic, which I found offensive.

    • Suzanne ~ It was not you … don’t worry. 🙂

      And let me say, I will read some seriously trashy stuff (bad language) if it’s funny and not do anything more than laugh about it. Also, I have been known to use some choice words myself like a few minutes ago when I thought I had lost this post due to a tech problem. Poor John had to go for a walk to keep from laughing because of the irony of hearing me swearing in the corner to myself while I tried to recreate my post. Plus, while it’s not Wall Street, having been in the army and waited tables to get through school, I found both were good places to explore the dark sides of one’s vocabulary.

  2. what a great post!! i love how you gave all the background and pulled us around to the current issue. i don’t usually think swear words are appropriate but i have been know to laugh at it when used in humor. i consider myself as never having said a swear word, but saying “crap” is a swear word to my mother’s ears – so i guess i do use profanity on occasion – just never in front of her. : )

  3. I love this post and the wonderful memories of your Dad, plus the understanding that we do learn from parents even if it takes a while.

    The joy of blogging, for me, is when I find people who are willing to engage in intelligent discourse about something. We don’t have to agree, but getting well-thought responses adds richness to the experience. I also love the fact that we can choose to engage, or not. A while back I got a few responses to one of my posts that were offensive, but I chose to keep them there. Why? Because he had the right to say what he wanted, and I knew that particular post might push some buttons. (I didn’t write it to push buttons, but I knew it would). I could have responded to him, but I knew my words would fall on deaf ears. So, do you write this particular blogger? If you think she will hear what you have to say, sure. But if not, you just did it in a subtle way in this post.

  4. A poetry and fiction writing class I took for my degree had clear instructions about not using profanity in work we submitted for marking. The idea was that we were learning to write and no amount of bad language would have a good enough effect to make up for poor writing. And it would more than likely ruin what would otherwise be good writing.

    More than once I’ve started a book and not finished it simply because the profanity was not warranted. Very seldom have I felt that the language actually added to the story. As for blogs – I’ll drop them like a rock if they show signs of becoming consistently offensive, whether through language or subject matter.

    Keep up the good work here – I’m enjoying your blog.

  5. YOur poor dad. You actually remind me of our middle girl who is now 12, going on, of course 30. And yes, we lecture…so who knows what tales she will have to tell on us…but the covering over all things is love and just as you look back with loving consideration at your younger self and your dad I can only hope she does the same. Unless you know the blogger personally and have an ongoing dialogue with her already (in which case she would deserve to know why you aren’t joining in) it is probably best to leave it at your decision to not keep reading.

  6. Hi Elizabeth, I am fairly new to all of this, I am not a learned person either. But there are one or two things that you should know first I am envious of your relationship with your father, at least you had one. And the fact that you remember him so well as you do means that your love for each other will and has never left you, even after twenty years. As for the language used in blogs. Be honest to yourself and you will never regret it, and if you keep quiet, this person will never know how you feel. Plus of course, if put over in the right way, that you adore his or her blogs “but”. well at least they will know the reason why you have stopped reading their blogs even if they don’t agree, personally, it may that it has become such an accepted thing now, that many people don’t even realise that they do it any more. I only have a couple rules as regards Swear words and that is and ever shall be, not in front of the kids or in public.
    Kind Regards.
    Tony Sanders.

  7. Neither my father nor my husband swore. They managed to convey their thoughts without resorting to swearing. My mother didn’t even allow us to say darn! So today if I say even a damn! I am aware that I shouldn’t have and no one could get me to use the F word. My best word for swearing is now RATS! There was one blog that I stopped reading because of her hate filled speech rather than swearing. I had enjoyed her blog until she had suddenly changed and I felt there was something wrong and I just didn’t enjoy reading her anymore. I was sorry because before she ha been a good writer. She suddenly became an atheist and hated everyong who was a believer. Now, I am and have always been an agnostic, wanting to believe but wanting more proof. But she really offended me when she started all that and became a poor friend to someone who had befriended her.

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