It was January 2001 when then President ANR Robinson addressed the nation and quoted his mother as saying: ‘Bad habits are gathered at slow degrees, as streams running into rivers, and rivers into seas.’
This statement was subsequently modified by a friend who reminded me that: ‘it begins with raindrops’. That’s what crossed my mind when I heard our prime minister in a press conference quote from a calypso, Don’t Jackass De Thing.
I grew up at a time when the word ‘profanity’ was used to describe certain words which you were not expected to use publicly. Madam Webster describes profanity as: ‘a socially offensive use of language, which may also be called cursing, cussing or swearing, cuss words, curse words, swear words, bad words, dirty words, or expletives’.
At that time, you may have gotten away with these words under your breath or as they say, sotto voce—in a quiet voice or not to be overheard. But there was an expectation that certain words would never cross your lips publicly. I grew up in East Dry River where one perceives that the standards were lower, but I never heard my mother use profanity and I am still offended by the use of expletives.
Fast forward to today, my contemporaries are using outright obscene language on their Facebook pages; my prime minister is talking to me about not jackassing the thing; another person responds to a member of parliament with the statement ‘STFH (meaning stay the f*** home)’; and a number of other comments which a few years ago would have been viewed as inappropriate.
It might be that I missed the memo that these words are now acceptable but I have not heard them used in any of my online meetings or briefings. I have searched without success for world leaders using similar exhortations.
I accept that language evolves and I am old and irrelevant, but as long as I am in charge of my faculties, there are things to which I shall object. The use of inappropriate language is one of them.
You see there is a connection between the breakdown of discipline and the use of inappropriate language. For me, language and respect are all wrapped up, intertwined with each other. The moment one begins to fall apart, it is just a matter of time before the other follows.
From where I sit, people resort to these expletives either because they want to appear trendy or they are reluctant to find a more appropriate word.
I expect the highest standards, and shall continue to demand it from whomever I interact with or whomever leads us. When we lower our expectations, we will get responses aimed at the lowest common denominator.
The old behavioural edict has not changed, ‘behaviour breeds behaviour’. Citizens will follow and emulate your behaviour at every turn, so don’t degenerate us—we deserve better.
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