Swearing by Example
I had the most wonderful aunt. She wasn’t wonderful in the take you out to eat, gossip, talk about boys kind of way. She was wonderful in the take charge, play with the boys, and swear kind of way. She was strong, self-aware, brash, capable, and extremely confident. Her most endearing and lasting quality was that she did not care what anyone else thought about her. She was extraordinary in every sense of the word.
For example, one of our favorite stories to tell about this aunt was one day a lady from the primary (back in the day when they were three separate meetings) dragged her son home by the ear, knocked on the door, and when my aunt answered the lady said, “Your son said !@#$% (a swear word). Can you believe that? I just can’t imagine why or where he learned that word? What is this world coming to?”
My aunt replied very deadpan, “Oh, I know sister. I have no clue where that little !@#$% (same swear word) learned such a thing.” Then she shut her door and went right back to doing what she was doing before.
This aunt has always been really important to me because she taught me that there were many ways to be a woman. I grew up in a family where women did not swear. Men could swear, but only in jokes or when they were really angry. I thought swearing was very bad. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I took it so far that I refused to date a guy I liked because I heard him swear while playing basketball. As I matured I have slowly shed some of the constraining behaviors I grew up that made me believe someone was “good” or “bad.” My aunt’s example has been critical to this molting because it taught me that being a good person was much more complicated than never saying a swear word.
In fact, this is an issue I am trying to figure out right now. I swear. I swear a lot. You name it, I say it. It is usually in my head and never at church, but its a regular daily occurrence. It’s not that I love swearing or think that it is a great thing, I just no longer think it is that bad. I’ve traveled around the world and learned others’ swear words and (in my youth) thought that it was funny to invoke a reaction by saying a strange word that means nothing to me. I’ve been in foreign countries where little children say one of our swear words and then giggle while I feel uncomfortable and sternly tell them not to say that.
I guess to me swearing has become something I find culturally relative. How can the combination of random letters have such strong meaning? To me swearing is a perfect example of a socially conscripted behavior. As a culture we share a list of words that are inappropriate. So much so, that their enumeration determines the rating of movies and songs. There are entire committees created to count swear words. To me, swear words are nothing but culturally agreed upon shared symbols of deviance. If you swear, you knowingly defy what is expected of you.
I secretly like that. Swearing is my way to assert that I am different, more complicated, more dimensional than my culture would have me be. In a sense, it subverts the traditional example of an LDS woman. It makes people reckon with the reality, rather than the ideal.
Lately, however, every time I swear I follow it with, “I’ve got to stop doing that before my daughter is old enough to understand!” I want to be a “good” example to her. I don’t want people to ever think poorly of her because of my example. And yet, I loved my aunt. I loved seeing a woman unafraid and unabashedly unconcerned with what other people thought about her or her family. As these thoughts were going through my mind I read through the latest issue of Segullah and was struck by the interview with Tom and Louise Plummer near the end. In it Louise Plummer says that one of the things she hates about our culture is that we are taught to be good examples to our children and others– by being things we are not. I don’t want to put on a facade to be a good example. I am good, just the way I am. I don’t want people to have to be fake to be good examples because it makes the rest of us honest people look really bad.
Plus, I think that there are many aspects of my behavior and my aunt’s that would have been diminished if we were trying to be the stereotypical good example. She was tough, proud, and unafraid. I am bold, opinionated, and an open book. I don’t want my kids or friends to miss out on this part of my example because I am trying to be what I think I am supposed to be.
What kind of example do you set for others? Is it something you think about? What are some of the “good” and “bad” examples you have? Do you ever change your innate behavior in order to be a “good” example? Have you ever benefited from someone’s “bad” example?