I am fully prepared that this may be one of my most controversial posts. So be it. I am willing to suffer the backlash if it comes.
Mike and I stopped by one of our favorite “Cheers” on the way home from the airport on Friday night. We sat in the bar area, which we often do, finding it more casual. It was early, and the bar was full. We had not been there long when I noticed a man with a group sitting across from us. He had a t-shirt on with the word, F—- and a couple of other words, with the F—- spelled out completely in large letters. I was shocked. Maybe I shouldn’t have been. Just the day before walking down the streets of New York, I saw a man wearing a very nice wool sweater with those same words on the front in small letters. I was surprised by that, but probably also should not have been. Just a few minutes ago I opened an email from Audible, and there was that same offensive four-letter word in its title, written FU*K. I took this third happening as my call to action, deciding that someone must stand up to what I consider inappropriate and even obscene language that seems to surround us. Call me narrow-minded, a prude, and out of touch. I do not think we should be faced with profanity in these ways.
Back to our “Cheers.” I went over and took a photo of the obscene wording on the man’s t-shirt. From then on until we left a few minutes later, I was obviously the topic of his group’s conversation, and I was being ridiculed by them. I ignored that. I called our waiter over and expressed my concern about the obscenity to him, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said there was nothing he could do about it. I asked to see the manager. She came over and I repeated my concern to her. Same response.
Mike and I know the owner, and I sent him the picture I had taken and told him I was more than offended by the obscenity, and what his staff had said when I expressed concern. He responded, ‘It is concerning,” and that he would get back in touch with me. He has yet to do so.
The night after this event Mike and I went to another restaurant/bar that we frequent. I showed the photo I had taken to the waiter there who we know and asked him what he would do in that situation, and he said, “Probably nothing.” I was shocked because unlike the other restaurant/bar, this one has no separation between the bar and restaurant, it is all one large area. If children were seated at a table behind someone with offensive language on their shirt who was seated at the bar, it would be obvious to them. The waiter explained his answer by saying, “People have the right to their own opinion about that.” Do they really?
I then asked the following question; “If someone came in with something clearly racist written on their shirt, would you say anything to them about that?” He replied, “Probably.” I was glad that was his answer since I am also offended about racial comments. But explain the difference to me. We have the right to wear whatever we want to in a public place, even if it is clearly offensive and someone else expresses concern about it, yet we do not have the same rights regarding wearing something with offensive racial comments? I repeat, I am glad that our rights do not allow us to wear clothing with racial comments. But where is the line drawn? Where do our individual rights take a back seat to our collective good? As a society, do we really think this language should be tolerated in public places?
We have become conditioned that racial slurs will not be tolerated, and I am glad that is the case. But we have also become conditioned that people are allowed to have obscenities on their clothing and in their language, and those of us bothered by it are to just turn our heads to it. We hear it from our politicians, powerful heads of companies, and newscasters. It happens so often that many have become numb to it. And I am in no way equating discrimination of any kind with profanity. Considering the two, discrimination is worse. I, however, want us to elevate our standards and not accept profanity as a given.
Part of the problem relates to the fact that what we consider obscene or even acceptable has changed. Just a few years ago it was extremely rare to hear any obscenity from a platform. That is no longer true. It is more common now. But not usually the “F” word; thankfully that word is not used as freely as some other words that are no longer considered obscene or even inappropriate to many people.
Some members of my family and some of my friends use this (what I consider) obscene language in their speaking and even in their posts on Facebook and Instagram. That is their individual right, and I can delete them from my social network if I am bothered by it. This post is not directed at them, or any individual’s choice of language. It is directed at management.
I have spent the last twenty-five years in my business helping managers (and individuals) to be their best, modeling the best behavior to their direct reports, and creating a culture that is positive and supportive. When staff fail to represent the company in the best way to its customers, I feel a call to action. But I realize that staff follow the lead of management. If something is acceptable to management, it is more than acceptable to staff.
Call me a prude. Call me out of touch. If I am those things, I am proud to be. Or is it possible that there are others of you who share my concern? If so, it is time to stand up and say so. Even when standing up does not result in the action we think appropriate. We can also take action, with our feet and our money.
I heard a fellow speaker, Elizabeth Jeffries, say something from the platform years ago that I have never forgotten. “As speakers, we are called to comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comforted.”
I am feeling pretty uncomfortable right now.