I have never heard my 75-year-old father swearing either at home or when he was headmaster and leading a school. He taught that swearing is a sign of a limited mind. He believed that any emotion, even anger can be expressed with appropriate language without the need to be vulgar. Growing up under this belief has made me very sensitive to swearing. I am very uncomfortable with the way swearing is now normalised in social media, tv shows (including my favourite) and even in workplaces. I notice that a lot of social media posts contain the acronym “AF” after a simple statement, for example “I am tired, AF”. Popular books are also using the “F” word and selling millions of copies – case in point – “the subtle art of not giving a F**” by Mark Manson. Although the book has many interesting lessons/perspectives, the title does not roll off the tongue so easily for image and etiquette proponents such as me.
Remember etiquette is all about polite behaviour and making sure others around you are comfortable with your communication – both verbal and non-verbal. Don’t overthink this, “others” could simply refer to your children, siblings or parents before we even look at the broader community in which we live and work. To be realistic, good communication is hard especially when you haven’t been taught or shown how to do better. There are some who choose to replace the vulgar words with softer phrases to express surprise, shock, horror. Common phrases include: “shut the front door”, “what the fruits”, “oh my word”. I accept that this is a less harmful solution to the communication challenge.
Yesterday I went into a reputable uniform retail store to make an urgent purchase and was there by 8am when the store had just opened. The heavy rains overnight had brought an unexpected cold front and I wanted to purchase a branded school fleece sweater for my child and drop it off at her school. I was the second customer – a lovely, attractive lady had come in before me with someone I assume may have been her son. As a person who appreciates aesthetics, I noticed how well she was dressed, as well as her physique and posture. It therefore came as quite a shock when she responded to the store assistant with “F” and “S” words when she was advised that the store did not yet have US dollar change as she was the first customer of the day (a common problem in Zimbabwe) and that she could not make payment in a combination of US dollars and Ecocash or RTGS. The store assistant did not make the rules for the store, neither was she in control of the economic situation. To my mind, a solution could have been her leaving payment and returning for her change during the course of the day. An inconvenience yes, but a solution none-the-less.
This lady who outwardly presented a polished image left an unpleasant trail through her inappropriate behaviour and coarse communication. A good overall image is the result of a combination of appearance, behaviour and communication elements. You never know who is watching and how that person can affect your future opportunities. Is your behaviour and communication tarnishing your image? Have you normalised swearing and the use of vulgarities in your communication?
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