I really love that I cuss. Like, it might be in my top-ten-favorite-things-about-myself list. It is not, however, on my husband’s top-ten-things-I-love-about-my-wife list and realizing this caused me to get curious about why I love profanity so much. To the day I die, I will defend my belief that we don’t do anything that isn’t serving us in some way – even when those things cause problems in our life, and my cursing is no exception. My curiosity around how my choice to frequently use profanity has helped me identify two problems my cursing causes, and one positive way it serves me:
Problem: It doesn’t help me communicate better
…because the majority of people in my life are actually a little turned off by it. Obviously this may not be true for everyone, but most people in my life come from a conservative background, often viewing cursing as “wrong”. Because of this, they can often have tunnel vision when they hear someone swear and it takes more effort for them to look past my choice words if they want to hear the content of my message.
Problem: It doesn’t (always) make me more honest
…yes, I have read the articles on Huffpost (and elsewhere) pointing out the studies that show individuals who curse are more honest about their feelings and opinions than their non-cursing counterparts. I definitely agree that this can be true. But I also think profanity can prevent the disclosure of honest feelings. For me, this looks like sometimes using my favorite choice words to convey sarcasm, annoyance, or even anger in order to cover up more vulnerable feelings like hurt, fear or loneliness. The fact that I do this isn’t good, bad, right or wrong – it’s just a helpful insight that can alert me in the moment that I’m not communicating what I really think or how I really feel because I’m feeling defensive or I’m afraid of being vulnerable.
Positive: It makes me feel like a good person
…betcha didn’t see that one coming. I know this sounds like a paradox – but doing something I was raised to believe was “bad” actually makes me feel like a good person. My upbringing was largely conservative both at home and in the community at large. Somewhere along the way, I internalized a formula for knowing whether a person was generally good or bad. The formula went like this: bad actions = bad person, good actions = good person*. Does that person drink? Bad person. Does that person smoke? Bad person. Does that person cheat/lie/steal/curse? Bad person. And this formula served me quite well for a long time – until it started causing problems.
These problems started around college, when I started meeting good people who did “bad” things and bad people who did good things. It suddenly got much more complicated to decide who was good and who was bad using my formula.
I think this really came to head for me during a semester-long music program where I was surrounded by other artists and creative individuals. Most of them were good people… and most of them swore, drank, smoked, broke rules, and did “bad things”. I got teased a lot for being the “good girl” – not drinking, smoking, or swearing. And then one day – I tried it. I swore. I took a drink. I smoked (the wrong end of) a cigarette (hey, I was new to all these “bad” things!). And it was awesome – because I didn’t feel any different for having done it. I still felt like myself at the core of who I was. Maybe I was just kidding myself? Nope – no one seemed to think any differently of me either. I was still accepted. I was still the “good girl” – I was just a good girl who also did “bad” things.
As a perfectionist – this was groundbreaking.
I’m now several years removed from that college semester and I have mostly abandoned my bad actions = bad person formula. I’ve become much more comfortable with good people who do bad things and bad people who do good things, and as such, I generally no longer have the same epiphany feeling when I do something that the younger, formula-adhering me would have deemed “bad”. Except for when I swear. Cursing gives me such a sense of freedom because it reminds me that my identity is not tied to my actions.
Where does this leave me? Well, like I said earlier, we don’t do anything that isn’t serving us in some way, even if it causes problems in our lives. For now, the benefit I get from letting my profanity flow freely is still outweighing the problems it causes me, so I continue to keep a healthy dose of choice words in my everyday language. There will probably come a day when this is not true anymore and I don’t need this specific reminder about the separateness of my identity and my actions. But until then, I’m pretty damn set on not giving up my choice words.
*(Side note – there was definitely a hierarchy to these good and bad actions – but that’s a topic detour best saved for another time.)