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The Conversational Cripple

Last year, an article that made the rounds earlier caught my attention.

“Los Angeles County ready to halt cussing.”

Long story short is that 15-year-old McKay Hatch and his South Pasadena High School No Cussing Club got an official proclamation from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors making the first week in March “No Cussing Week.”

There are no penalties, of course. This is the land of free speech. But I applaud Hatch’s efforts and the County Board members who made the idea official.

The county supervisor’s spokesman, Tony Bell, was quoted as saying, “…it’s a good reminder for all of us, not just young people but everybody, to be respectful to one another and watch the words we use.”

“It provides us a reminder to be more civil, to elevate the level of discourse,” added South Pasadena’s Mayor Michael Cacciotti.

There was a time when I didn’t see what the big deal was with swearing. Swears were, after all, just words. I didn’t necessarily mean the artful combination of them (which is where they could become derogatory and hurtful) but that the words themselves were nothing to get uptight about. When I was a parent, I promised myself, I wouldn’t punish my children for swearing.

Today I see that idealistic notion a bit differently with the understanding that words shape people’s perceptions of each other. Peppering a conversation with swears can diminish the way others think of you.

“Profanity is the crutch of a conversational cripple,” a friend once quoted. I like that statement. It’s a reminder to strive to do better, and sometimes it takes a young leader like McKay Hatch to remind us of that.

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