One of the biggest surprises in connection with my son’s first year in school has been the depth of my feelings when my son has reprimands in his diary. Every one of them I feel to be a reproach to me, that I have been the one to do something wrong; and on the other hand I see it as my son’s way of repudiating me and my teachings. Of course, I know, some amount of reprimands is to be expected of a normal boy (and I should worry more if there was none – and there hasn’t been a reprimand every week or so many that a sensible person should worry), but every reprimand is still a painful disappointment.
The most painful of all the reprimands my son has brought home this winter, have been those two where teachers have complained about him having cursed. As strange as it is, these have been more painful than the times he has brought home colorful descriptions of the gravity of injuries he has (accidentally?) inflicted. Only thing more painful than that would have been (and maybe can be in the future – if my son won’t be able to resist the temptation) information, that he is using drugs, even the most common cigarette. Common! I despise smoking and I am ashamed of the times when my hormones (or I-don’t-know-what) have got the better of me and I haven’t acted accordingly. I hold my breath when someone smokes in front of me on the street; me, who isn’t very brave to call others to order in any other situation, will point out the no smoking sign to those who try to do it in bus pavilions… I have deliberately acted decidedly scowlfully and I hope that this has taken deep enough roots in him to stay away from this vice even when at some point in his life somebody will offer the cigarettes to him.
Still I doubt it – smoking is a socially expected and deceitful, encouraged in the gangs at a certain age. I know that I had doubtful moments as well, when I would have tried it had the situation played out otherwise; it’s possible I would have even become a permanent addict. And yet I was a very well-behaved and socially little integrated child; I couldn’t even imagine proving myself in a social hierarchy with such a show of courage. Still I knew that it was expected and that this is expected in a certain – popular – circle, it is confirmation of you belonging to it. At age sixteen I started being more interested in the phenomenon from the social aspect and I began asking everyone I discovered having a smoke, the question “Why are you smoking?”. There were some different answers, but actually they confirmed my conviction that there is no good reason to be smoking. This is just a bad habit and all the smokers advised me never to try it if I asked them seriously and privately. In that I got the affirmation that it is stupid to be smoking and I don’t ever want to do it myself.
In a way it is very similar to cursing. It is expected as well socially in a certain age and to be popular in certain circles. It is also a kind of confirmation of the bonds and a test of courage. I have despised it even longer than smoking. Smoking I considered an interesting phenomenon until the age of sixteen and I was even studying it in a way, but cursing has always seemed coarser than I ever want to be, even before I was finished with half of the primary school. I don’t think I have ever truly used obscenities, but I remember a knowing decision – or rather bacoming to an understanding – that I am not the kind of person who would use them. Simple damned still slips over my lips but I never use any of the stronger words. I couldn’t if I wanted to (there have been a hateful moment or two). I rather not put those feelings into words – I might express them using primitive and universally understandable grunts or cries instead -, which accomplishes the goal without soiling me and the people around me.
Somehow this decision is more difficult to justify than my disdain of smoking. There is nothing unhealthy about cursing – it is rather considered an effective way of getting the feelings out – and repressed feelings are certainly a source of unnecessary stress. Still I see that the more educated and smarter the person the less you hear obscenities from them. For me it is – just like it is with smoking – always a big disappointment to I hear obscenities from someone I otherwise respect. I feel a painful stab in my heart each time I hear disappointment or pain turned vulgar with some obscenity, sometimes by someone I have considered my friend, in whose intelligence I have otherwise no reason to doubt.
Every time I hear them lowering themselves with coarse language I think whether I want to stay friends with them. Do I want to be close with someone who would pour the most repulsive imaginations into their closest ones upon some bad luck? Who doesn’t find better ways to express their feelings than obscene metaphors from areas where nobody would go willingly? Is it really possible that for them the frequent use of those words have diluted their meaning so much that they don’t understand how much damage they are doing to their image in the eyes of other people by cursing? Or maybe they are still on the level of eight-year-olds who would prove their greatness through demonstrating how careless they can be of others and the rules by using the most vulgar images and the most obscene words about them? Can one hope that they might still get out of this social level – understand what it means to show respect and consideration towards their companions and how to act accordingly; why those social rules have been set in place or developed and how hard the situation has to be for their breaking to be justified? There is a good article about it in The New Republic (Steven Pincher) (thanks, Vetikavabrik, for referring me there!). The article does write that if used skillfully, cursing can be interesting, even piquant – like a tiny amount of chilly in some dishes I’d say – but it is not something to pour over everything indiscriminately, hiding everything but its own taste; and the fame you could get by spreading such poison is questionable. By the way, I have practically quit using chilly as well.
For me the decision not to curse was intuitive and without a real justification. It was so self-explanatory that I have never considered it as something I should talk about with my son. I didn’t even think that my example wouldn’t be enough to avoid such vulgarity – and there is where I was wrong. Of course he still is an eight-year-old and is right now living through the ways the hierarchies develop in social circles and how to be popular there. It doesn’t justify cursing, it is just as lame as it is in grown-ups. I have tried to explain this to him, now. I really hope he will soon reach the understanding of what is going on socially and what is really meaningful there and what is even harmful. And I will try to stay calm in the meanwhile.