We’ve had this conversation here once before…
I was recording a skype conversation with my friend Julien Smith a few years back and, during the conversation, we got into this whole thing about when and whether it was cool to drop the F-bomb. He’d just written a marvelous post entitled The Short Sweet Guide to Being Fucking Awesome that exploded online.
I wanted to talk about the post and about how he somehow uses 4-letter words for good. It was a pretty fascinating conversation where he gently called me out for censoring myself on camera, and it got a lot of attention. In the end, Julien doesn’t censor, he is who he is in all areas of life. Take him and whatever comes out of his mouth, or leave him.
More recently, I swung by a book reading by The Bloggess, Jenny Lawson, who stepped to mic, looked at the packed house and began, “You fucking came!” as the room burst into adoring laughter and applause.
Then, along comes this week’s episode of Good Life Project, featuring New Zealand transplant turned fellow New Yorker, Gala Darling. Like Julien, Gala tells it like it is. While she has some pretty bright lines about what she will and won’t talk about, she also drops 4-letter words with fair frequency. In honesty, so do a whole lotta New Yorkers, including, er, um…me.
We rarely do any editing for content on the show. But then I got a note from my editor saying, “hey, wanna take a look at this?” For the most part, the conversation was pretty clean, but there were a few runs where, well, sh*t happened. And f–k happened. A lot. And they kept happening until the end.
And I started to wonder, at what point do we start bleeping that stuff out? Do we ever bleep swear words? And if we make the decision to bleep one, do we then have to bleep them all? We’ve had plenty of guests drop the occasional F and S bombs on the show in the past, and left them in. Nobody’s complained. But, the volume this time around was what stood out. And we’ve also recently learned that GLP has a growing family audience that watches the show every Wednesday night together.
I want to respect our community. I want the core conversations and messages that come out of Good Life Project to be cool with parents and families. I want the conversation to be not about my or my guest’s language, but rather our ideas.
But at the same time, I want to honor the way our guests choose to express themselves. So I reached out to Gala and asked if she’d be cool if we muted the words. Had she felt strongly about keeping it all in, I probably would’ve just run with it. But she said she was cool with the bleeping. So, that’s what we did.
Still, that didn’t feel entirely right to me.
Our guests choose their words, knowing they’ll be viewed and listened to by tens of thousands of people. And, frankly, I don’t have the purest mouth off-camera. Most people I know don’t. It’s not gratuitous, but sometimes you just need the right word to express a thought or emotion and that word is not clean.
By the way, for those who see swearing as a crutch for people who aren’t articulate enough to write or speak without dropping 4-letter ditties, there’s a long history of many of the greatest writers, poets and orators using words that’d make a sailor proud (no offense to sailors!). NPR (or was it WNYC) just ran a great segment about this, citing The Bard as a prime “offender.” It’s not about lack of ability. It’s about how some words just do the job better than others. Offensive as they may be to certain ears and sensibilities.
And, I guess this really isn’t just about the show…
It goes right back to that conversation with Julien about how much of a filter each of us chooses to layer on when bringing our voices to the world. My public voice is the real me, there’s nothing made up. BUT, it’s the real “filtered” me. There’s plenty I don’t say and there are ways I would say things among friends that don’t hit the pages or stages with quite the same level of “sauce-y-ness.”
I’ve occasionally considered launching a different blog or writing under a pseudonym, so that I could express that part of me that has remained, with the occasional breach, fairly tightly bundled in public. Funny enough, when I’m on stage, I tend to share something much closer to my real voice than when I write. I taught yoga for 7 years and swore tactically in class (oh my!), yet I still built a very large community of students. People who not only were able to “deal” with it, but actually appreciated my well-timed use of certain words.
I’m at a crossroads. For my guests on the show, I’m leaning toward keeping everything in, letting whatever is said be what lands on the episode, but just labeling certain episodes with a “Parents: there are some not-safe-for-work words in the episode, do what you feel you need to do.”
For me, do I start to speak and write “professionally,” the way I speak and write when I’m around friends? Or just partly filter? Would I make a different decision if I wasn’t a dad? I’d like to think my daughter is a pretty savvy, socially-aware New York kid. She certainly hears all these words being dropped on the street on a fairly regular basis. Some of the people she loves most have pretty minimal filters. She certainly knows right from wrong and what’s appropriate and doesn’t judge people because of the language they choose, or use language unbecoming a kid of her age.
So, is the whole thing really just in my head? Maybe it has nothing to do with her and everything to do with me. The “public-facing” brand I’ve built and not wanting to monkey with it.
And, just to be clear, I’m not talking about gratuitously dropping f-bombs and beyond when another word will easily do. It’s not about swapping 4-letter words for commas. But, sometimes, there simply is no other word that wields the same power and punch than the one you think…but dare not say.
I know I can’t be the only exploring this. Because I’ve met a whole bunch of y’all in person. And I know I’m not the only one with a more colorful one-on-one conversational presence.
What to do, what to do?
This. Is. Not. Easy.
+++ Jonathan Fields is a serial-entrepreneur, business strategist, speaker and author. His latest book is Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance. Fields writes about performance-mindset, innovation, leading and entrepreneurship at JonathanFields.com