There are many times that I recall a friend, who years ago was raising two high energy, willful sons on her own. The boys were two years apart in age — so at 10 and 12, they were fighting and arguing nonstop.
My friend, Debra, was an accomplished executive in a business dominated by men. Still, she was able to maintain an admirable balance between tough and feminine. She dressed beautifully, had exceedingly courteous manners but also possessed a backbone of steel when required. Normally, she won her battles with wit and charm but if a stronger conversation was needed, she was well prepared.
As Debra told it later, she walked into the family room and found the two boys scuffling and name calling.
“You pig!” screamed the youngest boy.
“You’re stupid!” retorted the other.
She was a small woman of 5 feet 2 inches, but the boys had not yet outgrown her. She grabbed both by the collars, pulled them apart then sat them down on the sofa for a talking-to.
Of course, she began by explaining how important blood was and how they should be each other’s protectors, not enemies. That fell on deaf ears.
Seeing that her reasoning was not working, she folded together her perfectly manicured hands — she loved wearing Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow — and said quite practically, “Okay, if you’re going to fight and name call, there are going to be rules. You will not use common, ugly slang names to call your brother. You will each go to the dictionary and find an educated, sophisticated word that describes the behavior.”
She got up, walked to the bookcase, pulled out a Webster’s and announced, “From this moment on, this is your weapon of battle.”
The boys listened. They made a list of words that each felt described the other in preparation for the next round. A couple of hours again, they were back at it. Debra listened in from the other room.
“You pig!” screamed the youngest.
The oldest drew himself up proudly then calmly responded, “You’re a recalcitrant pig!”
Debra sighed humorously and thought, “It’s a start.”
Let us all take a lesson from Debra and her boys. Words of disagreement are becoming increasing ugly and people call others degrading names on social media. Some famous people are the worst. They think that the platform given to them by the grace of God and fans allows them to use filthy language. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, they have a responsibility to lead using grace and dignity.
When I was growing up, I thought that “shut up” were cuss words and that a “fool” was the worse thing that anyone could be called, because that’s what Daddy said the Bible said. Yet, society has created despicable words that are used too readily.
Crass and crude.
Benjamin Disraeli, England’s great prime minister of the 19th Century, was once in a heated, lengthy war with another member of parliament that had been stretching on for months.
“You are a snake that crawls the ground on your belly,” stormed the Parliament member.
Disraeli, a well spoken man, replied calmly, “And, you, sir, could walk under my belly, wearing a top hat.”
Point made, brilliantly and gentlemanly.
My New York agent, now his seventh decade, is one of the courtliest men I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. He is elegant and eloquent. For 20 years, I have admired him greatly. He told me that as a young agent he did something in a business deal that was a little questionable. The other agent, an older man to whom many looked up, called my agent and was quite upset. He began the explanation of his upset with, “Sir, you are no gentleman!”
“It stung,” my agent recalled. “And it taught me a lesson.”
From these dignified folks, let’s take a lesson. Let’s not be recalcitrant. Or a pig.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.