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The International Writers Magazine

Reverend Father Antonio Hernández, O.M.D., A.B.F.
Founder of the Independent Order of American Buddhist Fathers

R-E-S-P-E-C-T and the Deep-Blue Sea of Words

The other day, as I swore lustily after a "household accident", it occurred to me that I've been hearing quite a bit of swearing on television lately. (To mention the movies would only elicit gales of laughter.) But television is a sort of sacred land for children. Even during this morning's complaints about Justin Timberlake and whatever it was he did to Janet Jackson, they were showing clips of it! Are they out of their tiny minds? Don't the networks know that kids watch early morning tv too?

This seems to be the whole point of the subject. My best friend/secretary and I began discussing this sad state of affairs. "I like to swear as much as you do", she confidently told me, "but this garbage on tv has to stop!" (She is a teacher.)

Pic of Jackson and Timberlake © Herald Sun 2004

Aghast, I quoted my grandmother: "These words [obscenities] are just words. The only wrong in them is when they are uttered in anger or as a curse against someone." My secretary was unimpressed. Usually she's impressed by grandma's sage words.

We discussed solutions- but I feel as strongly as I ever have about this topic. It is nothing less than Constitutional freedom. Yet the 1st Amendment, contrary to what Justice Hugo Black thought, is not the most important right. All the rights are equal. It is clearly stated in the Constitution even before the Bill of Rights that no part of the Constitution or its Amendments may be used against any other part thereof.
So freedom of expression has to be checked by the equal freedom from being grossly offended. How do we accomplish that?

At my house, when I was growing up, we were painfully civil (because our parents and grandma were around, and they were multi-lingual.) No one could swear in any language. We cut loose outside our home, and we all swore better than any sailor. Thus, like Ernie Kovacs, I am all for the delicious right to deep-blue speech.

Still, I have the common sense not to employ my indigo-end-of-the-spectrum metaphors in the wrong places. Perhaps this what is missing from our society: any trace of thoughtfulness for others. How can we fix that?

Mexican President Benito Juarez defined freedom, liberty and justice in one phrase: El respeto de los derechos ajenos ("respect for the rights of others"). Juarez, a poor Zapotec Indian who became a lawyer, was a contemporary and fan of Abraham Lincoln's. He believed, like Lincoln, in the power of correct language. Notice Juarez began his statement with the word "respect". We don't have any respect left today, it would seem.

Thus I say education is the answer. Schools are not teaching respect as they once did. They did, I know, because I was there. In spite of my devotion to cheerful cursing, school taught me to be a gentleman. Today I can hear the ringing laughter at the very thought of the idea.

But respect doesn't rob anyone of any rights. It doesn't violate any part of the Constitution. In case no one's noticed, the Constitution of the United States is BASED on respect. The Founding Fathers trusted in an honor system of honest, respectful representatives. Look what examples we've got today....
I think teaching respect is a better idea than seeing the day when someone stamps a censor rating on each of our foreheads.

© Rev Antonio Hernandez Feb 2004

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