When it comes to cursing in the public square I come from a very different point of view from many who now toss about any word that comes to mind. Like this week when Madison Alderman Paul Skidmore used the most despicable four-letter word that can be used on a woman. I have been a politico for decades and do not recall an elected official ever having used this word publically, and certainly not against a woman who was to testify and offer thoughts on the issue up for discussion.
This evening on Facebook I read the following about this incident and was truly rocked back in my desk chair. It was the first I learned of what had occurred.
Last night in the wee hours of the morning, my daughter was about to testify at the Common Council, when alderperson Paul Skidmore called her the most despicable name a woman can be called. He should apologize to her and resign immediately. Clear standards of conduct are obviously needed.
Readers to this blog know where I stand on the word choices that we make every day. I have called out newspapers and even The Economist for the lack of professionalism when allowing the lowest common denominator to rule. I take this stand as a former radio broadcaster and one who has worked in the state assembly. I know there must be standards of conduct.
And when they lapse we see the results and are angry about them.
Granted, I grew up 50 years ago when social norms were far different. Radio did not have crude shock jocks, cable television was not yet a factor, and there were still some rules of the road for what passed as public communication.
I can recall mom hearing an elected official use either the word “damn’ or “hell” and commenting that it was not appropriate, as those placed into office should have a higher sense of self-respect. I have never forgotten those moments and lessons.
I have commented before on the use of cursing in our culture, and have always reached back to years of childhood when radio was a constant source of news and entertainment in our home. The respect announcers showed for their audiences has never left me. That decorum, that professional touch, that mature quality is not only how I presented myself in work environments, but also in my personal life.
Coming from a broadcasting background where words matter, and working in a legislator’s office where conduct was always viewed or heard by someone, means perhaps I see this issue as more prescribed than others in society. But it really should not be so. We all should care about the use of language by elected officials.
I contend it should not be hard to conduct ourselves in society with word choices given we have the entire dictionary from which to use when making a point. I suspect throughout the entire city council meeting every other elected official acted as if they were sitting in front of the entire council with many constituents gathered about in chairs. What Skidmore seems not to appreciate is that words have weight, and if we are to live in a society where the hope of coming together is to exist at all, we need to be aware of the impact of the words we use.
I use to speak before groups of constituents when working in the statehouse and was always aware of the audience I was in front of to push the right message by using the right words. I used words many hours at a time when working in radio and never felt the need to resort to ones that were laced with vulgarity.
Or as we heard last night, words that were vile and mean.
The use of words is key to everything we do. Being an adult is knowing how to employ the best use of words. Elected officials are always walking a line on how to frame issues and respond to all sorts of inquiries so word usage to them is as basic as washing hands before dinner. So one has to assume that just acting meanly was intended when the four-letter word was uttered by Skidmore.
It is not the first time I very much question those who wish to have a leadership role in either our city or nation when their word choice includes trash talk, cursing, and vulgarities. It shows a lack of respect for an audience and a public body they wish to influence.
I know it sounds truly old-fashioned to mention Paul Harvey, a radio broadcaster I always listened to as a boy because of how he enunciated every syllable of each word. I enjoyed his broadcasts until he died in 2009. But here is the message I want to end this post with about what Skidmore must ponder.
Harvey would wear a shirt and tie for a radio broadcast, as it was a sign of respect for the audience he wanted to spend some time with over the airwaves. Think about that consideration he gave to his listeners. That was the world I grew up in. Surely Paul Skidmore grew up in a very similar time.
And so it goes.