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Yesterday I ran a poll (see below) about cursing in professional presentations. I've done polls on twitter before, but the thing that struck me about this poll that I feel makes it worth following up on is the # of responses. I have barely ever made 50 responses before. /1
This time I had 10x that. The other noteworthy part is the extreme majority of respondents selecting the same item. While I tracked the progress of the poll and saw this coming about, I was more interested in the comments people were making. (see thread)/2
The themes that struck me in the comments were:
1. It depends. No one really gave specifics about what it depends on, but I could imagine the following scenarios where I might reduce my use of "bad language":
* religious institution
* academic
* children may be present
2.Different standards may exist based on culture. I.e. "bad language" is treated differently in many European cultures than it is in the US. Even in the US there are differences regionally.
3. Use of bad language is a cheap ploy at emotion, or shock value, or something that the author felt limited somehow the rest of the content of the talk, and/or the quality of the speaker.
4. "Why use any content that one knows could be offensive to someone in the audience?" This is a take off of #1, but with the assumption that we can never know who is in the audience, so why risk it?
5. This one may have come up in a non-threaded part of the conversation ...
Are men judged differently for the use of language than women? I have heard from a few women the say they have been criticized for cursing, while very few men have been.
So why do I care so much about this topic?
I used to be a relativist. Meaning, that all values are relative. All truths are relative. This leads to a very liberal perspective of the world, where tolerating everyone else's values is of paramount value in the end.
I have found for myself this has led to a generally weak position for one's own values. There are times when you do have to take a stand and that might mean not being tolerant of other positions. There are some easy constructs here, such as health/life threatening.
From this newish point of view (for me anyway), and through some life experiences I have had, I have become somewhat intolerant of people asking me to change my behaviors that don't fall under those constructs (I don't threaten you at all), to accommodate their values ...
... over my own.
At first, when I moved from NY Metro area to California, this was couched as "being nice" instead of being direct. Even though for me, that a request to be passive aggressive, instead of being nice. It felt awkward.
Then when I moved to The South from NY (again; its complicated). I all of a sudden found that there were whole new words deemed "bad language" that were never deemed so in my universe before. Again, my value, my means of self-expression were not being tolerated ...
... but instead, I was being forced to tolerate or to conform.
1 of the pieces to this is while I am a white male - USer, I am a minority in this country. Actually, an extreme minority compared to others. I am Jewish. While now I am not religious at all, and barely do anything that ppl who don't know me would recognize as Jewish ...
... I actually grew up with a tremendous closeness to the identity and more importantly to the core culture of what it means to be Jewish (for my family). History is a huge part of that message. And Jewish history is one of constant forced conformity over threat of death.
So many of the Jewish holidays relate exactly to that:
Purim, Chanukah, Passover all in one way or another have a message of intolerance over the behaviors and beliefs that threaten no one.
So when I heard recently that maybe speakers should be asked to conform their means of expression out of fear of offending someone's idea of what "good language" is, but not really offending THEM like a bigoted racist epithet that uses otherwise perfectly good language ...
... I kinda lost it.
For me requesting someone to change their words without really changing the content of their message is a request for conformity.
If you are offended by words like shit, fuck, ass, cunt, etc., regardless of the use contextually to the rest of the coIntent, I can't tell you not to be offended, but I would ask you to consider why you are offended.
Are you offended bc I meant to hurt you? Then you have every right to be offended and please tell me.
Are you offended bc I don't share your beliefs? E.g. I don't believe in hell, Jesus, Mohammed, even your god, so words like damn, hell, Jesus, offend ...
... then maybe your expression of offense, is actually offensive in and of itself. It asks for conformity for the sake of belief, and not because mine or others actions or words actually did anything to hurt you or even ask you to change your behavior.
Now, everyone should just do what they feel comfortable with. And while yes, it usually makes sense to respect your audience, we also need to acknowledge that sometimes the audience may not be respecting you.
The very idea that there is "bad language" is a value of some that may not be of everyone, nor is it static across cultures (micro & macro) and even across time.
When you ask ppl to comport themselves to fit someone else's idea of non offensive, you are in essence saying that that person's way of being is not being included in your organization, or valuable to your audience. Maybe it isn't.
And yes, there is a way where asking ppl to comport themselves is a very small ask (for you), the message it sends is as powerful if not more so than the offense you are trying to avoid.
Yes, I know the poll was incredibly leading.
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