Last week, I attended a conference which brought together a group of faculty from other public institutions across our state. Because of the nature of this post and my observations, I won’t get into the specifics of the event. The focus of the conference was to discuss the current climate and conditions at our respective institutions and discuss ways to make things better. During the course of the first day, individuals were invited to the microphone to share their perspectives. As many of you know, the last five years have not been good ones for higher education. The pandemic ushered in remote learning which created some serious instructional challenges for faculty and students. The pandemic also created lots of stress and anxiety, which has impacted the campus cultures at many institutions. Throw in the financial stress of emerging from the pandemic and declining enrollments and we have a perfect storm of challenges, hurdles, and frustrations.
When they had their opportunity to speak on the conditions on their campus, an individual from another school didn’t hold back. I’m not easily offended by bad language, but this individual dropped the coveted “F bomb” a dozen times (or more) in their tirade. As they shared their anger and dismay at the conditions at their institution, this colleague expertly weaved the “F bomb” into every part of speech. Over the course of ten minutes, the word was used as a verb, a noun, an adjective, and even an adverb. Clearly, this person was upset.
I’ll admit that I was surprised when this speaker used the “F bomb” the first time. While I’ll occasionally use profanity in casual conversation with friends, I don’t recall many times using that language in a public arena with other professionals. Hearing the first “F bomb” was shocking and conveyed the speaker’s emotion. Hearing it used the twelfth time, however, was less effective. At that point, it became performative. The overuse had muted its impact.
I’m going to bookend this story with another one where the “F bomb” was dropped. A couple weeks ago, my sixteen-year-old son was having some trouble with his phone. At one point, he thought that he had lost all of the pictures and files he had saved to his phone. Our family had traveled abroad recently and the thought of losing all of his photos from France, Sweden, and Holland hit him emotionally. As I tried to comfort his loss and the resulting grief, my son exploded and yelled, “Don’t you understand. I lost (insert “F bomb” here) everything!” It was an emotional moment for him and for me. Thankfully, we were able to recover all of his files, but the impact of that moment still resonates with me.
Regular readers of this blog know that I don’t quote scripture often here. But I think the folk singer Pete Seeger (and the book of Ecclesiastes) has some words to share about cursing to show emotion.
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No excuse for that kind of language in that setting.