Fr. Glenn: Seasoning The Insipid

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

Ah … the slippery slope. It seems we hardly go a day anymore without hearing extreme vulgarity of language in the news—by celebrities, and even by our elected and appointed government officials. There seems to be a contest in crudity. To be honest, I thought—or, at least, hoped—people would be fairly repulsed by such coarseness and puerile behavior by now, but … alas… apparently not. Since our public conversation and news cycles have descended into recent carpet f-bombing—the incessant use of that Queen Mother of all dirty words, as Ralphie describes it—one can’t help but wonder into what cesspool we will next descend. Could it be that we might, having hit bottom, actually begin to ascend once more to some semblance of graciousness in speech? Now wouldn’t that be lovely. 

In lamenting the modern coarseness in interchange, we might recall the soliloquy of Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” expounding on the potential magnificence of language and verse, subsequently (finally!) succeeding in helping Eliza realize his point: “Just think what you’re dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language. It’s the greatest possession we have! The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative and musical mixtures of sounds.” Such potential ought be exalted rather than debased.

Certainly any language will have its own beauty, but as English is my own first language, I cannot but recall the beauty of the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, John Donne, Robert Frost and so many others … the elegant prose of Austen, Joyce, Stevenson … the expository works of Dickens, the fantasies of Tolkien … Milton, Eliot, Chaucer, Orwell, Twain, Carroll, Conrad, Kipling, Wordsworth and, perhaps greatest of all, Shakespeare. And then the great persuasive orators of the world such as Socrates, Cicero, Douglass, Lincoln, Churchill, MLK, Jr., JFK. Not into graceless utilization of the word for them, but always that elevated language crafted to educate, enlighten and edify.

After recalling such great authors and orators, vulgarity in the public domain feels like tripping into the mud. Vulgarity and cursing only diminish the speaker—as well as his supposed observation/argument. But the adept with language will convince.

Let us rise above rather than slide beneath, remembering St. Paul: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one. (Colossians 4:6) and in another scripture: “Do not accustom your mouth to lewd vulgarity, for it involves sinful speech. Remember your father and mother when you sit among great men; lest you be forgetful in their presence, and be deemed a fool on account of your habits…” (Sirach 23:13-14) 

Another trait of modern intercourse is rudeness toward, and lack of consideration for, others’ points of view, priorities and considerations. To simply dismiss others as evil, stupid, uninformed, etc., hardly advances reason, much less reason-able societal dialogue. 

I’ve been streaming an engaging TV series called “Flashpoint”, which centers on the adventures of a police Special Response Unit in Toronto—a unit sort of a cross between SWAT and psychology. The team’s mission is to resolve extremely volatile situations (particularly incidents involving hostages, potential suicide and the emotionally unstable) by negotiation if possible, and yet are also heavily armed should that much-less-desirable option of force become necessary as a last resort to save innocent lives.

The story lines are quite engaging, as are the characters; one feels almost like you’ve become part of the team. But one of the best things of the series is the team’s delving into the behavior of perpetrators of these situations, who often driven by various severe stresses and desperate circumstances in their lives rather than purposely executing malicious intent. They find out how to resolve situations by (gasp) actually listening!

Such plot lines are themes extendable into our own lives … if we just let them be so. One of the biggest rules is to remain calm in all circumstances and confrontations. Anger, pride and fear both tend to kill good judgment and rational action. Pride is why people rant and scream and resort to personal attacks when cornered in an argument.

Another theme in the show is recognizing how we tend to judge people without knowing the facts and circumstances that may be causing negative behaviors. We are quick to make assumptions (usually the worst), and, much more rarely than we ought give benefit of the doubt to the other person (yet while quite readily justifying ourselves!). In my position as priest, pastor, counselor, confidant, etc., I can assure you that there is a lot more pain, trouble and stress in many people than they might allow to appear on the surface—with marriage, kids, health, job, debts, addictions, family expectations, etc.—and those same people often are very private. So when a person’s actions seem out of normal character, do both of you a favor: overlook it and keep them in prayer.

Jesus taught:  “I say to you that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also…as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them…But love your enemies, and do good…and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High…Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-37)

Even if you are not a Christian, is there any greater philosophy of life than that? … one that brings peace and understanding among persons.