By Valerie Minard
Last spring when Jimmy Graham, an all-star tight end, was traded to the Seattle Seahawks from the New Orleans Saints, he noticed the football team’s different atmosphere. Expecting to get lambasted by his coach after he dropped a pass during football practice, he got a surprise. Instead of being cursed and demeaned, Coach Pete Carroll gave him fatherly advice and told him to focus more.
In fact, the Seahawks’ unorthodox approach, goes counter to football’s old-school mentality of making men out of boys through tough and demeaning treatment. They frown on cursing and promote a positive environment where players can flourish with encouragement instead of put downs from the sidelines. This has created a more cohesive team where everyone freely speaks their mind. They “treat you like men,” Graham said. It’s literally all positive reinforcement.”
Some researchers like Dr Richard Stephens, from Keele University, say cursing provides an emotional release reducing pain, like when you stub a toe. But others like Dr. Karen Lawson, Program Director for the Health Coaching track, Center for Spirituality & Healing, University of Minnesota, believe it’s harmful. “Chronic stress from negative attitudes…,” Lawon says, “can have a damaging impact on the immune system.” For the most part, obscenities are uttered in anger, either from an offensive or defensive position. Like second-hand smoke, the words linger, creating an aggressive stressful environment.
On the other hand, many studies have shown that kind behavior can lead to long term health benefits and increasing happiness. Even the Biblical wisdom of Proverbs recognized that,”Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body”. But like any habit, it may be hard to overcome the tendency to use foul-language, or the motivation to do so may be wanting.
I found myself in the latter situation when I was a camp counselor and asked to enforce a no cursing rule with the campers. The problem was, I cursed. Although I knew enough not to do it at camp, it felt hypocritical for me to enforce it. It wasn’t taboo at my home and it had become a way of fitting in with the crowd and not feeling like Goody Two-Shoes since I didn’t smoke, drink or take drugs. Deep down I knew it was inappropriate, but really wanted to know why.
That got me to do some soul-searching. I had been praying about a number of issues in my life, and it occurred to me that if I was asking for more blessing in my life, was I negating the good that I hoped to see through use of profane cursing? That pulled me up short. I had to admit that cursing always made me feel worse about a situation. How could I see more good in my life if I was emphasizing the negative? If I wanted more respect, I needed a more respectful approach. If I wanted more kind and gentle interactions, I needed to be that too. If I wanted people to be more patient and considerate, I needed to treat others that way. What I really needed to do was stop reacting and being offended by petty things.
This really made sense when I came across what religious leader Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “…We should go forth into life with the smallest expectations, but with the largest patience; …with an equanimity so settled that no passing breath nor accidental disturbance shall agitate or ruffle it; … determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant, nor even when it is, unless the offense be against God.”
I decided to be true to my prayers by honoring the good in my life. This led me to make a conscious decision to clean up my act. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard and I began to notice that my attitude was brightening. I was beginning to feel more spiritually attuned since I didn’t have to work through so much of the negativity I had formerly voiced.
Ironically, I never had to enforce the no cursing rule with the campers. I was the only one that needed it.
These words from a poem by David Bates express what I learned:
Speak gently, it is better far
To rule by love than fear;
Speak gently, let no harsh word mar
The good we may do here.
Valerie writes regularly on the connection between consciousness, spirituality, and health. She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in New Jersey.