Choice Words

Posted: March 28, 2007 in Children, Discrimination, Health, Morality

I am in no way puritanical. I am conservative in some ways. I’m liberal in other ways. I think that most folks are probably the same, regardless of whether they’re homeless or non-homeless. It all comes down to the specific individual. At the end of the day, we’re all just people.

One area of my life I’m extremely sensitive about is the use of profanity. I’ll admit that I’m no angel. In the 50 years of my life, there have been ample instances where "choice words" have come pouring out of mouth – much to my dismay and shame.  

For the most part, however, even having to listen to someone swearing is enough to make me cringe internally. When that happens I just get up and move out the immediate vicinity. Sometimes, though, that simply isn’t possible to get out of earshot. At times like that I try focusing on something else to help me block out the sound. Usually, I’m fairly successful at "tuning" it out.

I’m however, particularly sensitive to the use of profanity – especially when it’s being used in the presence of young children. To me, swearing in front of children is 100% verboten. It’s a big no-no. Period. No exceptions. No excuses.

Homeless people use profanity like non-homeless people do. With homeless people, my opinion is that it stems from the frustration inherent in the bare existence of homelessness, than from something else. I’m not making excuses for it mind you. I’m just telling you what my personal observations have lead me to conclude.

As a result, many people consider homeless people to be uncouth or uncivilized. Despite that, it has been my experience that if you treat a homeless person with some measure of dignity and respect, that you’ll get the same in return. And while that may not be true in all instances, it’s true enough most of the time.

There have been any number of times on the city buses when a group of homeless persons have been going from one part of town to another and their discussions have taken on a heated excitement that start producing some choice words. However, those times when small children have been on the bus at the same time, I’ve asked the other homeless to watch their language in front of the kids. The response is invariably the same: first, they look at the children, then they say something like, "Oh, yeah. Sorry."

Now contrast with something that happened about a week ago while I was on the bus.

I was seated in the seat directly behind the rear exit door reading a book. Seated at the absolute rear of the bus were five high school boys who were acting like… well, like high school boys. The thing I noticed more than anything else was an almost non-stop usage of cuss words. In fact, these boys were far worse than many of the homeless people I know.

These five boys were calling each other "fool," which I thought was appropriate since that’s the way they were behaving. But they were also calling one another "off springs of canine females." And the "F" word was coming out almost every 3rd or 4th word.

I sighed to myself, and then focused harder on my book – that is, until a mother and her two pre-school aged children boarded the bus.

I looked over my shoulder at the five high school boys and said: "Hey, um, excuse me guys. Could you do me a favor? Can you tone down the swearing in front of the kids?"

One of the boys, who was wearing a hooded sweat shirt with the hood pull up (on the bus!), even though it was a pretty warm day outside, smirked at me as said: "F—k You, B—h! You ain’t nothin’ but a bum!"

The joke was on me. I didn’t realize that he was an up and coming comedian. His classmates, however must’ve known, because they starting laughing and whooping it up – until I turned sideways in my seat, with my legs out in the aisle way, and looking the comedian in the eye I said: "Excuse Me?"

For some reason his friends quickly decided that the joke wasn’t really all that funny, because their laughter stopped just as suddenly as it began.

I like to think of myself as being terrifically handsome and debonair, but I know that’s all nonsense. I know I’m not. For the most part, my face has a somber and serious look to it. Some people have said my facial expressions are a bit stoic. Smiles tend to be rare, but when they do come out, they’re genuine.

My eyes are the most striking feature on my face. They’re dark and piercing. Couple that with the fact that I tend to blink less frequently than most people do, and the effect can be rather disconcerting if I happen to gaze at you intently.

Don’t misunderstand me; there is absolutely no way I would have taken any physical action against this boy. At the same time, I saw no reason to let myself become a verbal punching bag for the amusement of he and his friends.

After looking at him for several moments longer, I turned back around and began reading my book again, thankful for the silence.

Within the next few stops, each of the boys in turn exited the bus. As they did, I found myself reflecting sadly on what had happened, wishing that civility could have prevailed. But in the eyes of those boys, I was nothing more than a homeless man and that justified their reaction to my request that they tone down using profanity.

As I got off the bus at my stop, I thought of the times I’ve asked other homeless people to cool it with the profanity, and how out of respect for the children present, they have. Then I thought of those five boys who should have known better – who did know better – and their disrespect of the younger children present.

If I were giving out "cheers" and "jeers" awards, guess who’d get which?

So much for the theory that the homeless are disrespectful and vulgar. As far as I can tell, if they are, they aren’t the only ones.

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