You know the rest as well as I do. My mother used to quote that axiom to me over and over during my childhood. My brothers called me names, because that’s what brothers do. Since we moved so much, I was often “different” from my new classmates, and therefore the victim of teasing by my peers. I had an uncle whose nickname for me was “ugly”. So her advice was never far from my mind, and I learned to ignore a lot of words that were used in reference to my looks, my intelligence, my clothes, my accent, and my home life.
As I grew up I learned that some words had much more impact than others, and correspondingly resulted in more dire consequences if I chose to use them. I called my grandfather a “jackass” once, and only once. The punishment was swift and severe, and came not from my grandfather, but from my father.
My mother had a whole list of words we were not allowed to use and even several that my father was not allowed to say in front of her, or us. Her least favorite word was “hell”, followed closely by “damn” and “shut-up”. I remember getting a very stern lecture for telling one of my brothers to “Shut-up and leave me alone!” And of course I knew for a fact that if I used the Lord’s name as a curse, the ground would open up and swallow me!
My mother used to say “Oh, shoot!” when she was really angry. I didn’t give much thought to that until George Carlin came out with his infamous gag line about “shoot is just shit with two Os”. Then it finally occurred to me that it really isn’t the word that is so important- it’s the intention and emotion behind it. No matter how polite the word, or politically correct the statement, the feelings and intentions of our heart are often quite clear when we speak. I’ve had people address me as “Mrs. Maurer” with respect and others use the same words with absolute contempt.
You know where all this rambling is leading. Paula Deen. I’m not a fan. I had to Google to make sure I spelled her name correctly. I find it ironic that she has spent 11 years on the Food Network endangering her life and the lives of others with her unhealthy cooking and eating habits, but using a word got her fired. Of course it was THE word. Former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert said that for him “that word is the line…nobody should be using that word.” (Does that include rappers?? I’m just asking.)
Well, Bob, that word only refers to one group of people. I hope you don’t mean that other racial slurs would be okay. I don’t think any of us can really afford to go around judging each other by the color of our skin or the ethnic group or groups that color represents. In this part of the country it’s not even acceptable to say Indian anymore, although I know older people who have used that word and even the word “savage” many times! And I think that’s one of the points Paula’s defenders are trying to make. She was raised in another world and time and a word familiar to her since childhood might slip into her conversation without her conscious awareness of it. I listened to an old Baptist preacher use the same word years ago, in front of witnesses who were of the same era, and none of them even noticed it. I was appalled and never forgot it! In my own time I have seen and heard the words colored, Negro, Black, and African American accepted and rejected as labels. Other, much uglier terms have never been acceptable in polite society, but then again, neither have the three or four derogatory terms for each and every nationality you can name. My father-in-law used some very “colorful” language to tell WW II stories! I have two cousins who can tell you a racially offensive joke about any country or culture on earth. I chose long ago not to use those terms and to also avoid many of the curse words and even slang words that I heard while growing up. That doesn’t mean they will never pop into my brain or be uttered by my lips. I can’t guarantee what my faltering brain might one day do. “Train up a child” does not just refer to the good stuff!
For me, the word that is the line is the F word, which is used by every other person on television and, it seems, nearly every other person on the planet. I find it offensive and I find that people who use it routinely are too lazy to think of a better word and generally too arrogant to care. Gordon Ramsay gets away with that one and nobody bats an eyelash. Jillian Michaels said it on a network program aired during “family time” and that’s the reason I no longer watch that show or her. I do tolerate it from time to time in an otherwise good movie because I realize that the characters would use the word, but that doesn’t mean I want to watch Gordon or Jillian screaming it at people they are supposed to be helping.
You are probably weary of listening to me…and we haven’t even discussed Sergio and Tiger, or a dozen other people and situations. Nor have we discussed the fact that many, many television, movie, government, religious, education, business, and sports people have done far worse things than uttering a hateful word, and not only kept their jobs, but the admiration of millions of fans. We live in a complicated world and our response to anything should be tempered by time and contemplation. And we should usually err on the side of forgiveness since that is what we prayerfully request most often for ourselves. That’s not an excuse to continue our behavior. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to go forward and do better. People often quote Jesus’ saying about casting stones, but if you read the passages that follow the famous one, you can see that He didn’t condone what the adulteress had done. In fact, He told her to “go and sin no more”. I would tell Paula the same thing.