Beliefnet
Everyday Ethics

redacted.jpgI didn’t expect my first post to excite much controversy–from my friends, at least. But to my surprise, even my mother, who was in part the subject of it, had a criticism. “Nice post,” she said. “But it would have been funnier if you left the curse-word in.”

Not everyone felt the same. 
“I’m glad you bleeped it,” my friend Steph said. “Obscenities make you sound coarse, inarticulate and rude,” adding that they are offensive to a lot of people, including herself. Another friend, Dave, disagreed, basically accusing me of being dishonest for censoring my post. (Does this mean he thinks I’m a sellout?)


Honestly, I’m not sure why I made the choice to redact the original epithet and fill it out with &%$# instead. I wasn’t forced or even suggested to refrain from profanity by the blog sponsor or Beliefnet. And in my private writing, I’ve used some language salty enough to pickle a sailor. However, here I just kind of shied away from it somehow. Maybe I was being cowardly; maybe I was being ladylike (snort). Or maybe I just didn’t think it was such a big deal at the time. I’m not 100% sure how I feel about the decision now, except that when it comes to this ethics blog, my first instinct is to do as little harm to others as possible. I realize there are people who feel actual pain/discomfort/offense when they see swear words in print. So I thought, better safe than sorry. 

But, as Dave pointed out, maybe being ethical is also about a personal code of honesty, about being true to yourself and to the events about which you are reporting. In which case, the epithet should probably have stood. 
All this got me thinking about the power of language and the choices we make when we sling it around. When we’re in a public forum, do we have a responsibility to mind our tongues and/or our fingers when we type? Who do we have to please? Should we fear offending others? When is a curse-word the best word–the only word–and when is it just for shock or because of a lack of imagination on the part of the speaker? Do words have intrinsic power, or is it just what we invest in them? If I censor myself, is it purely out of fear of being censored by someone else, and does that mean society is becoming more restrictive?
I can only answer for myself. As I’ve gotten older, I have become more conservative with my verbiage, if not my political leanings–something I would never have guessed in my tattoo-and-piercing younger days. Sometimes I even admonish my husband to cut it out when he tosses out F-bombs too casually, and he looks at me like I’m crazy. “Who did I marry,” he seems to be saying, “Tipper Gore?” (Agh, I hope NOT.)
Personally, I do think the story would have been funnier if I hadn’t watered down the punchline–but only to part of the audience. True, you can’t please ’em all. I guess I come down on the side of not pissing anyone off. That’s why I’m not a comedian. And my friend Dave is.
Lastly, I’ll say this: I’d really prefer it if the comments field weren’t peppered with people gratuitously tossing around cusses, but I will leave that to your own code of ethics. Thanks, folks!

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