Where's the Soap?
I'm not much of a social media person. I suppose this blog is considered social media, but I don't have an Instagram account and peek at Twitter only occasionally. I do have a Facebook account and peruse the posts of others on a fairly regular basis though I don't post much myself. I like happy animal videos and will share those. Not big on memes. I'm involved in some local projects so I post about that. But for the most part, I read what other people are saying. Politics and our divided country, not surprisingly, are popular topics these days.
When I was growing up -- as older people like to say -- times were different. Not always wonderful, but less complicated. There was a midday family dinner every Sunday and lots of outside time, twilight hours spent with cousins playing hide-and-seek and kick-the-can; climbing my uncle's cow-strewn hills in summer and tobogganing down those same hills in winter. Corny maybe, but looking back those activities seemed pretty wholesome and were certainly fun. No staring at cell phones or laptop screens. "Social media" was hearing my cousin Judy's opinion in the horse barn, or commenting on my cousin Sally's views on the turtles that hatched in her dad's sawdust pile.
In those days there were three channels on TV (and one was fuzzy). There was no cussing or anything even close to it on television back then. The news came on for an hour in the evening and was not a 24/7 deluge of information. My parents read the newspaper for news and read books for leisure. Dad liked westerns, Mom liked romance novels. There were some cusswords in my house but were mild by comparison to today. I might hear an occasional "Damn!" if someone hit their finger with a hammer or other choice words if the dog peed in the house. I've often told the story of the only time I ever heard my dad say the f-word, and that was when he was teaching me how to drive ("Stop this f-ing car!!"), which, as I review his reaction now to my driving 40 miles an hour over potholes, seems reasonable. I didn't curse or call people names when I was a kid. I'm not saying I was perfect, but I was taught not to do that.
My mother, Iva, was the teacher of that lesson. I can't remember exactly how old I was, over five, under 10. I know I was in school, which is where I imagine I picked up the salty words I aimed at my sister one day in the kitchen. I didn't know what it meant for, surely, if I had, I wouldn't have said it in front of my mother. I also don't know what my sister did or said to elicit my response. But whatever it was, I told my sister to "eat me."
Now you have to understand. When I was growing up in the 1960s, parents ruled with a different kind of hand. There was no, "Oh honey, you shouldn't say such things." No discussion. No 'time out' to think about one's sins. My mother took hold of my arm, frog-marched me over to the sink, and washed my mouth out with soap. Ran that bar of Ivory under the faucet, got a good handful of bubbles going and filled my mouth with suds. I'm sure there was also some yelling though I don't really remember. What I do remember was the lesson: watch what comes out of your mouth or suffer the consequences. Got it, Iva, lesson learned. Never again was my mouth washed out with soap.
This is not to say by any means, and as my friends will be quick to tell you, that I don't swear or make off-color remarks in 2020 (so, dear friends reading this, there's no need to comment). And while my mother's intention may have been for me to keep my language squeaky clean, what she actually taught me was to use words with care. If you're going to let loose with a barrage of expletives, know your audience. Use your head. Don't let it affect your goals, business or otherwise. Don't be insulting and don't be cruel. Name-calling fell into that same category. As I mentioned, I have not been perfect over the years, but if something cruel or coarse has left my mouth aimed at another person, it was not done so without the image of my mother's face rising before me with a bar of soap in her hand.
What I have read on social media over the past few years has been astonishing to me. People I know or with whom I am vaguely acquainted, some of them local business owners, not to mention politicians and world figures whose job it is to lead the way for the people who elected them, saying the most vile things to or about each other. I am not a delicate flower who swoons at the slightest oath (again, consult my friends). Still, the name calling and cursing shocks me, then makes me sad. Then it makes me sick.
Technology has opened doors for the ignorant bully to emerge, albeit often hidden behind the glowing computer screen -- and sometimes speaking to us from the glowing television screen -- who has been waiting for the opportunity to voice an opinion, vitriol they would rarely say to your face. What are these people thinking? Do they really believe they're making a difference in the world or convincing anyone of their views by prefacing a person's name with ugly adjectives? Did their mothers not have a bar of soap in the house?
I'm hoping this isn't who we've really become, men and women who cheer and think it's funny when listening to people curse and attack each other. I'm hoping it's a phase, a unique blip in time. I wonder: do those spewing this hostility really believe theirs is the voice of "the common man," something I keep hearing about? The voice of "the common man" is deeply embedded in who I am because that social designation is where I come from: my parents were small town factory workers who never finished high school, who gave up a piece of their life for me, regular people who went to work every day in a dark, loud factory to put me through college so I might have better opportunities than they did. No...don't talk to me about the voice of the common man. I know that voice, and it is kind and generous and dedicated and hardworking and knows how to teach children that the words they say have consequences.
I'm sure many will disagree with me, and that's okay. You wanna call me a name? Have at it. I learned at a young age from a wonderful woman who left this earth 28 years ago that people who say repulsive things to someone else don't reveal the character of the target, they reveal the character of themselves. In a way, I'm glad Iva isn't here to see this. There aren't enough Ivory bars in the world to wash away the hate speech and cruelty that so many Americans have embraced.