I’m a firm believer in freedom of speech and freedom of expression for all individuals.
Hey, I’m a writer. Of course I support and enjoy the privilege of stating my ideas without censor and also giving voice to opposing opinions – regardless of the fact that it often gets me into trouble.
But even I can be pushed to the limit.
For example, a few months ago I was flying from Phoenix to Orlando. I’d checked in with Southwest at the moment check-in opened and our family was one of the first to enter the plane.
As we settled in with the kids toward the middle of the plane, a small group of college-age men carrying backpacks came through the aisle and took seats behind us. Normally this wouldn’t have pinged my mommy radar, but a cell phone started ringing which reminded me to switch mine to airplane mode.
Then, as I reached under the seat in front of me, I almost cracked my skull and choked in my shocked pitch upward when I heard the person behind me say…
“Yo [derogatory name for African American], how’s your [derogatory name for girlfriend]? You know I’m going to take that [derogatory name for girlfriend] from you and [derogatory name for sexual act] her silly. Just kidding, man. What’s up?”
And that wasn’t all of it. Just trust me when I say it was disturbing and offensive. And followed by a few more corrosive words that cannot be spoken on primetime TV without a fine.
I mean really, aren’t there laws about that?
And more importantly, when something like this happens, how do you politely let them know that their discussion is inappropriate for public spaces?
I really don’t want to sound like a prude, but I also don’t want to come off as if I condone language that is hurtful or rude. Especially not in front of my kids.
Isn’t there a code somewhere that outlines how to have a respectful conversation in a public area?
If not, maybe there should be.
I was reminded of George Carlin’s seven dirty words skit. But those are just words banned for broadcast.
As far as I could tell the person behind me wasn’t drunk or high. He was just speaking casually with a friend, just as he would if he had been in his own home.
Definitely not my house or his mouth would have been washed out with soap and he’d been grounded for life.
Think of the last time you overheard someone talking loudly on the phone or in a serious discussion in a public area and they were either talking about a subject considered overly personal in nature or were blatantly using bad language in anger.
How did you feel? What did you do?
Yeah, it’s a pretty tricky situation.
After this incident, I did a little research. I couldn’t find an airline with a formal rule about using profanity, though there are many documented occasions where passengers have been denied boarding or removed from airplanes, busses and trains for being verbally abusive to transportation workers. Do you know of any?
Fortunately, in our case, it didn’t come to that.
As I sat between my two boys, whose eyes had started to grow in their flushed faces, another voice piped up behind us. “Dude, watch your mouth. There are kids right there, man. Not cool.”
Thank you, peer pressure.
We didn’t have another incident the rest of the flight. And best of all, my kids were ear-witnesses to the one boy standing up to his friend and saying what he felt was the right thing to do.
I was just glad I didn’t have to get the flight attendants involved. They have enough to do.