What can one do to keep profanity from one’s mind and speech?

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“What can one do to keep profanity from one’s mind and speech?” New Era, Sept. 1977, 42–43

“What can one do to keep profanity (spoken by others) from one’s mind and the tip of one’s tongue?”

Answer/Brother Russell L. Osmond

“SILENCE, ye fiends of the infernal pit. In the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still; I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I die this INSTANT!” (Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, p. 209.)

That’s how Joseph Smith responded to profanity and verbal abuse in the Richmond Jail during the winter of 1838. Hopefully, you and I will never have to be in such circumstances. But the problem of dealing with the profanity that surrounds us in our daily lives is nonetheless real. Perhaps my recent experience as a staff member of a military jail will be of use to you.

I recently completed a tour of duty as chaplain to a centralized military confinement facility. When I first arrived, the staff meetings were full of profanity, even though there were women present. After carefully cultivating the respect of the staff, I one day quietly asked one of the ladies present if she appreciated the type of language being used in that meeting. I was immediately interrupted by one of the principal offenders who said, “Oh, don’t bother Chris; she’s used to us.” Chris then took advantage of this opportunity to say, “I would rather they didn’t talk that way.” As you can well imagine, the entire staff was both surprised and embarrassed; the verbal climate of the staff meetings changed both dramatically and permanently.

Solomon says in the Proverbs that “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” (Prov. 15:1.) Time and again, in my personal experience with profanity, I have found this to be true.

I think we often tend to forget that we have total control of our verbal environment. We can deal with it as we choose; that is the beauty of the blessing of free agency. The adversary, on the other hand, would have us believe that we are victims of immediate circumstances. He tempts us in two subtle ways. First, he fills us with the fear of embarrassment if we should say anything about the language of our peers. Then, he manipulates our fear of rejection into the thought that we have to share that verbal behavior to be accepted as a friend. What powerful, ugly, and offensive tools are these! Our only alternative is a very strong and calculated defense.

My selection of defensive tools has always been a very deliberate one. I long ago learned that I can respond to my environment most effectively through the use of a “windshield wiper defense system.” I am in control of the windshield wipers, and I can turn them on or off at will. When I’m exposed to spoken mud and dirt that might tend to cloud my vision of eternal goals in favor of the immediate satisfaction of peer acceptance, I turn on the windshield wiper of my mental windshield and wipe the slate clean. When I am among those about whose language I need not worry, my windshield wiper rests. Unfortunately, I often find myself in unexpected mud puddles of conversation through no fault of my own. That is the test of the quality of my windshield wiper. If I find that my eternal vision does not clear up as fast as I would like, then I know I have some repenting to do. I find it helpful to never forget the words of the Savior recorded in Matthew 12:36–37 [Matt. 12:36–37]:

“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

“For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

But controlling one’s thoughts is not that simple; it takes a lot of practice. That’s why I never forget the power and value of prayer. Elder Hugh B. Brown once said that through his daily prayers he would give his plans to the Lord every morning and then report his successes and failures every evening. That really works! Paul counseled Timothy to “shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” (2 Tim. 2:16.) I find my best checkpoint on godliness to be my prayers. Through prayer I can daily recommit myself to increased verbal self-discipline and a better functioning windshield wiper. Since I pray regularly, Satan never succeeds with his masterful tool of making me feel that because I have slipped once, all is lost. I recognize that each mortal day is a rehearsal for the millennium and that profanity is simply a bad cue that I must learn to reject. Through daily prayer I develop the ability to respond properly to my mortal peers by establishing a permanent relationship with my eternal friend, Jesus the Christ.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written that “profanity is an evidence of a diseased soul” (Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, Inc., 1966, p. 602) because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). My desire to be pure has to a great extent determined my solution to the profanity problem. I could not be pure and profane at the same time, so I have opted to be pure. But you, alone, can make that decision. If you have not made the conscious decision to avoid profanity, then you have tacitly made the unconscious decision not to avoid it. It’s your move.