That Ol’ Untamed Tongue

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

Don Imus is at the top of the buzz this week. He has been fired from one job, and another is on the block. Some people think that it is a larger question of the degradation promoted from within the black culture itself… and some argue that is a sorry excuse.

To me, the whole brouhaha is an illustration of something all too easy to forget.

I tend to agree with Giacomo @ Joust The Facts that it is more a matter of:

I am concerned, however with lowering of standards of behavior. This is one of the great crimes of our culture today, the discourteousness and bad language that seems almost standard in interpersonal interactions.

One thing I’ve noticed about American society is that we are a society with many invisible boundaries. Much of our class lines and what is or is not acceptable socially is within parameters that are not clearly marked. And I think Imus crossed the line without even realizing it, simply because he had gotten away with similar offensiveness that had previously been overlooked. Seeing his penalties for this reminds me that we often think we are getting away with speaking foolishly or downright detrimentally even though the scriptures make quite clear that we will account to God for every word that comes out of our mouths.

How seriously should we take that idea? I think pondering some of this news story and the resulting heyday of slice and dice commentary – along with thinking over the consequences in Don Imus’ case- could convince us to take it quite a bit more seriously. The case can be made for why that is.

My theory on why people are fans of “shock jock” offensiveness… or venomous bloggers, or any of that sort of ‘Don Rickles’ phenomenon is because most people hide their own vindictive desires and resentments behind socially acceptable masking, and have a vicarious enjoyment of someone else saying things offensively and derisively. Even when those things undermine the very dignity of people as a whole and of the listeners. As the, now infamous, Don Imus comment certainly does.

It is wrong to speak of people in a way that degrades their intrinsic characteristics: their sex, their race, the whole gamut of those things we can call insults. Insults of people as a whole is one step towards the vilifying and stamping them as less worthy as humans. We ought to recognize that. Humorously observing things about culture or segments of society has some aspects of affection, it isn’t meant- and usually not taken as insulting. I realize I say that in the context of rabid PC policing, but I think if you analyze what is acceptable humor it has that basic affection factor within it. We need to make distinctions about what type of communication we are making and hearing.

The whole idea of relationship “boundaries” applies here. At what point do I recognize that I have trespassed into harmful territory in what I am saying of another person- or group of people? At what point does humor turn harmful… the ” it was only a joke” become something more ominous? I am not sure the boundary markers on that can ever be completely clear and red-flagged, but I think we can understand when we are ranging in that territory. Is Don Imus a worse sinner than anyone else who jokes at the expense of others? Rare is the person not guilty of that – but that is all the more reason to see that there are real consequences and that we do have some responsibility for our words.

And as Giacomo has pointed out, it really is part of a larger problem that we should address.