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Wednesday 22 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Maurice and the Theban Legion

The appropriate, the inappropriate, and the butt

Simcha Fisher - published on 02/17/16

Here’s a memory that Facebook brought to my attention:
Me, getting out of the car: “Bring your jackets in the house, kids.”
Irene (then age 3): “I’m gonna bring mine in by wearing it, D. I said ‘D’ because it’s inappropriate to say ‘duh.’
Couple things to talk about here! No, three things. The third thing is: yes, Irene is the awesomest kid ever. Aside from that:
First, I happen to love the word “inappropriate.” When we first started going to school and the kids came home reporting that certain words had been deemed “school inappropriate,” I rolled my eyes. Come on, teachers, enough with the feeble euphemisms!  Just tell the kids to knock it off!
But then I realized that the teachers had to tread a pretty fine line: it’s not their place to tell kids that certain words, behaviors, clothes, or ideas are flat-out bad, because what if they’re considered acceptable at home? But at the same time, they need to be in control of the classroom. And so the concept of “school appropriate” and “school inappropriate” is a useful one. They’re not making any blanket judgments; they’re just saying, “You can’t do that here.”
In kindergarten, for instance, even the word “bum” is considered “school inappropriate” — because, as far as I can reconstruct, it causes the entire class to erupt like popcorn, and it will be a good half hour before there is quiet again.
It’s a useful concept that escapes people more often than you’d think. And thus we have folks who can’t wrap their brains around the idea that no, we wouldn’t wear a dress with spaghetti straps if we’re expecting a vision of Mary, but it’s fine when you’re accepting your Oscar; or the idea that we wouldn’t cuss in front of our abuelas, but it might be contextually appropriate in a movie about Al Capone. It’s okay to talk about sexual issues in some contexts with some audiences, but in others, the very same discussions would be an offense against innocence and modesty. Graphic photos of genocide victims can be a valuable tool in the service of protecting life, or they might be an offense against the dignity of the subject and the audience, depending on how and when they’re used. Proclaiming the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord of all:  always true, not appropriate if you are a guest at a bar mitzvah. And so on. Context matters.
Yes, some things are never appropriate, but lots of things are appropriate in some places, inappropriate in others. It’s not moral relativism, it’s just taking context into account. Normal human thing to do, and often completely compatible with Catholicism.
The second interesting issue: what about outlawing words in your house? What are your standards, and how do you enforce it?
I can’t remember if, at the time Irene refrained from using it, “duh” was considered anathema at school or at our house, but I can imagine banning it just because I was sick and tired of hearing it, and not because I feel it’s objectively evil. This, too, is a completely legitimate thing that parents can do just because it’s their house and they’re in charge.
My Facebook friend Stacie says
I actually had to use reverse psychology once and forced each person to use one potty/body function word in every sentence. “Please hang up your farting coat”, etc. Lasted one hour till they begged me to stop making them use potty/body function words. It was a brief but savored victory.
I’ve had a similar experience. I got so tired of hearing the boys call each other “stupid” (and so tired of hearing myself say, “Don’t call him stupid!”) that I had them face each other and call each other “stupid” one hundred times in a row.  Boy, did they sound stupid. It wasn’t a permanent fix, but it put a lid on that word for a few days, anyway. (And yes, you can crack down on stuff like this by dishing out heavy punishments, but I save the heavy artillery for more serious stuff. Just my preference.)
A few weeks ago, I happened to look out the kitchen window and saw one of my kids unhappily trudging past in the dark. I made some inquiries and learned that he had to take a lap around the house because he said “butt.”
Ha! The word is actually pretty tame, as far as our household standards go; but it was a Saturday, meaning my husband had been home with the kids for several hours in a row. I don’t know what led up to it, but I guess hearing “butt” one time to many pushed him over the edge, and someone had to pay.
Friends, I laughed my butt off. 
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