What would you have done?

For some reason, a number of recent posts here are reminding me of an odd and unresolved problem I have had.  It may carry information about a particular region.  After all, it’s Texas, where our governor tries to get the whole state to pray on one day for rain and, when the rain does not appear, still regards himself as God’s favored son.  In addition to not believing in evolution and global warming.  And right now he’ front runner for the Republican nomination to run for POTUS.

I sometimes play dominos with a group of women whom I like a great deal.  I’m not a regular member, though, and so in a way I don’t see myself as setting or changing policy.

A few times there I have encountered a person who seems intentionally to want to give the impression of being a very sweet woman.  She is, she told me, a Jew for Jesus, and in that American way (as I think of it) her religion can take  odd and unexpected turns.  For example, it turns out that a lot of things can really lower her spirits, as she puts it, and so she makes some effort to avoid them.  For example, she has special software for playing movies that omits scenes of violence and, apparently, sex, particularly same-sex sex.  For the record, I’m the same about reports of cruelty to animals and I will tell people I don’t want to hear them.  However, the fact that same-sex sex is considered on a par with bloody murder lowered my sympathy a lot.

Still, none of this was affecting  my behavior, until it turned out that she had asked that no one swear while playing dominos.  It does lower her spirits.  And swearing includes “damn” in addition to everything else you might imagine.  And everyone was trying to meet her request, despite some being women with robust vocabularies for some occasions.

I sort of wish I had just said, “You can’t be serious; this isn’t even good for you.”  On the other hand, Houston, where I live, often takes some pride in performing the (selective) Southern gentle manners, and I doubt anyone at the table would have wanted me to liberate them from the constrainst she proposed.

I still think the request outrageous.  What would you have done?

24 thoughts on “What would you have done?

  1. I don’t live in Houston and I don’t play dominos, but if I did, I would refrain from swearing.

    Enjoying a social occasion is more important to me than swearing, and in any case, if I did swear from time to time, my sins would probably be forgiven, if I said. “sorry”.

    There are questions of principles (I would not accept having to listen to racist or sexist remarks), but the right to swear in public isn’t one for me.

    Actually, a ban on swearing foments linguistic creativity, and I’m sure that you can create many novel and poetic ways of expressing irritation.

  2. 4, SW, even “damn” when you do something very stupid? It turns out in this group, “damn” as a signal of regret is common.

  3. How about “May Allah curse his goat in the 7th Heaven of the Firmament!”
    “May Charles De Gaulle turn over in his grave!!” “May Dante divorce Beatrice!!!”
    “May Kant be filled with an ill will!!!”

    I would invent my own set of swear phrases.

  4. It depends on the set-up of the group.
    If she is the inviting or hosting person, she can make any demand she wants, because others can opt to leave or stay away.
    If she is only a guest, she risks that not everyone accepts her request and she might then have to leave. In that case, you (and others) would decide if it is more important for you to swear or to play dominoes. As you can swear all day and the rest of the week, but you cannot play dominoes alone, you would probably enter a compromise. I think I would.

    On another note, writing about domino circles on a public blog might result in your tea getting poisoned at the next event.

  5. Andreas, interesting reading of the situation. I doubt anyone there thought they could refuse the request.
    I also doubt anyone there reads feminist philosophers.

  6. My mother also doesn’t like any swear words, even “damn”. I do my best to not use them around her. One’s mother is different from a domino partner, of course, but it doesn’t seem a big imposition. Still, this seems like the right attitude in dominos to me:

  7. I didn’t realize that would embed like that. Sorry if it’s a problem. Still, because of that scene, I would be unable to play with this woman, as I’d have a near uncontrollable urge to do as suggested.

  8. I would think that if you think this is _grossly_ out of line (which is roughly what I take outrageous to mean), then you probably should say something. Few of us should silently be witness to gross transgressions.

    That said, I wondered whether outrageous was apt because while I might agree that this request is strange and even ill-motivated, I don’t think it is grossly so. Not every transgression need prompt outrage. (I think the comments re the movie screening worse, for example.) To see that it is not gross, consider how unsympathetic it would sound if you said, “We’d rather curse than have your company.”

  9. “As long as we’re making requests, can I make one? Swears crack me up and lift my spirits. I haven’t been well lately and could use a lift, so please swear freely, and humorously if possible.”

  10. I do think it’s outrageous. Other kinds of swearing I can see as being overly offensive. For example, at atheist blogs you get people saying things like “Jesus Christ on a stick” (huh?) when they’re feeling particularly adamant. As in–“Jesus Christ on a stick, get on with your turn!” No, we don’t want that at the Houston dominoes club. But “damn” and “hell” are mild, mainstream words, even in Texas. I don’t think a group member can expect deference to every single sensitivity they have. That’s my 2 cents, anyway. Why don’t you send the question to The Ethicist in the NYT magazine? I think she’d have fun with it.

  11. If I was attached to the group (and therefore disinclined to say, “eff this, I’ll just find a new domino group full of cursing heathens”) then I might be inclined to just find absurd or silly substitutes for curses like “KELLY CLARKSON!” (a la Steve Carell) or “Clustercuss!” (a la Fantastic Mr. Fox).

  12. Anne, being a native to the South and heir to most of its insanities, I decided a while back to wean myself off of cussing. Instead (echoing Andreas and a few others) I started using ‘pants’ as a curse. As in: “For Pants Sake” and, simply, “Pants.” Give it a try. A nice explosively voiced “PANTS!” will surprise and amuse while defusing anyone from accusing you of cursing. Happy Pants-ing!

  13. This is an interesting discussion – it is always promising when my intuitions are the rare ones. (Luckily, that means I’ve got a promising future!)

    What are people’s intuitions about the case with a change? I take it here this is a group of friends (maybe not _best_ friends, but these are more than acquaintances). The group finds out that one among them has an idiosyncratic displeasure – one that is good faith but not justified (and perhaps even a little bit offensive, but only mildly). I would think that some accommodation of idiosyncrasy would be part of being a good friend. “I like you, and so while I think this preference of yours is nuts, it doesn’t much harm me to accommodate you, and so it isn’t only that I _should_ accommodate, but it is that I am, at least given who you are and your preferences, glad to accommodate and make you feel welcome and cared about here.”

    I’m not sure what I’d say if people disagreed with that intuition. That would be a puzzle to me. (Again, there’s a promising future in terms of many puzzles for me to think about!)

    If not, if people agree with that intuition, maybe the problem in Professor Jacobson’s original account is not the preference accommodation but the request/expectation? That’s a tougher issue to my mind, one that I’d need to think about more. I’m still not sure that asking your friends to accommodate a strange, not very burdensome, good faith, idiosyncratic request is cause for outrage – but I’m also thinking it might nonetheless be troubling at least a little.

    (Speaking of accommodation – thanks to you all for putting up with my explorations of this! Much appreciated!)

  14. How strange that after so many answers to the previous question, no one responds to this one!

    If the few friends that I have are willing to put up with my neurotic whims, I’m willing to put up with theirs. At times, I find it incredible that anyone is willing to put up with me at all, and so if someone is both willing to and has the necessary conditions (certain political and ethical commitments, an openness to discussing ideas, etc.) to enter my circle of friends, I pardon all other sins, even smoking.

  15. If it were me, I would wonder whether my previous interactions with this woman were influencing my reaction towards this request; especially since the previous interactions you mention were around charged things like religion and homophobia, that it’s polite to avoid getting into in a social setting like that.

    I probably would have said “I’ll do my best, but I use those words pretty regularly, so I’ll apologize in advance for when I slip up.” And then tried to consider it an opportunity to become more aware of and intentional about my language.

    Assuming I was picking up sincerity rather than attempts at manipulation, I would also try to think about it from her point of view: how hard it must be to live in this society if one is intensely distressed by behavior that other people think nothing of. I’d try to consider it in terms of accommodating a disability.

  16. It is certainly outrageously selfish to ask other people to moderate what they say for no better reason than it lowers your spirits without apparently even bothering to inquire if refraining lowers the spirits of others. But I don’t think I see it as politically outrageous and so anything you say is just offsetting your preferences against hers.

    If you want to continue in the group without lowering your own spirits. “Shut the front door” said with the right intonation can be remarkably satisfying.

  17. Let me just be a tiny bit clearer about the “outrageous.” I think there’s a range of use of “that’s outrageous” that does not mean that one feels genuine outrage or would take the sort of action to correct something that caused justified outrage. For example, I just recently I learned that relative X talked relative Y into giving her (X’s) son the ring worn for life by Y’s deceased husband. Fine, except Y and her husband have a son also, and really the ring should have gone to him. I think what X did is outrageous, but I don’t feel outrage and I’m not about to call X and tell her what I think. This despite that my partner is the non-ring son.

    Anonymous at 8:15: I think it makes a difference that saying “damn” while playing a game is amazingly common and, for some of us, a matter of deep habit. That’s different from someone having an allergy to, say, cats so one has to lock up one’s cats when she’s around, or even something wierd, such as hating to see people chew peanuts.

  18. I’m with survivor,abd. Generally, I use words like “fork” and “spoon” (for their obvious counterparts) if I’m not allowed to swear. I’m bratty about it, though.

    I just got booted off another forum, and the word I used was “damn.” I don’t even consider that a swear word. The mod’s reasoning was that there are children on that forum as young as 8–my response was they probably use or hear worse words on the playground. Then I offered my opinion that Pat Boone was watching, and that’s what got me a “time out.” I chose to leave the group after that because free speech is one thing and fascism is another…

    I like swearing, because the effect is a sort of linguistic black magic. Spells only work if you believe in them. :) That is, you can choose to be offended by vulgarity or profanity, or you can ignore it. We profaners aren’t likely to change, and it’s such an ingrained part of our speech patterns that we don’t even think about it.

  19. Depends on the context. In my own house, I probably would have replied “F*** that!” with a cheerful smile. “Lowers my spirits.” my ass…

    (Censored above so nobody gets automatically blocked from reading it)

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