Is Trash Talk a Normal Part of your Family Experience?

This holiday season, perhaps it's a good time to take a moment and review how we speak of others.

This comic was sent to me not too long ago and I immediately thought, “Boy, is that ever dead on!”  

Later, as I passed it around and discussed it with people, I found that it resonated with many of them too. It never ceases to amaze me, when I’m out and about, to hear a neverending stream of criticisms and put downs flowing out of people’s mouths. It’s as if the only way they can get a sense of their own self worth is by demeaning others.

This comic points out just how negative and critical our interactions with each other have become. Like Pavlov’s dog, our knee-jerk reaction these days tends to be some demeaning remark or an uninvited analysis as to why the other person is wrong, foolish or misguided.

Our recent round of political campaigns certainly speaks to this. Tact and diplomacy are character assets that no longer seemed to be nurtured in our society. Not by the majority anyway.

I have a theory about how this has come to pass. While reviewing television over the past 20 years or so, you get a sense that our sitcoms and later, reality TV shows, have become more and more caustic over time. Shows like “Jersey Shore,” “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” etc., are perfect contemporary examples of this phenomenon.

When I was growing up in the 70’s, TV certainly had its share of shows that had caustic and demeaning characters. “All in the Family” quickly comes to mind. Like many comedies, “All in the Family” used comedy and satire as a means for social commentary of the times.

While comedies of the past had their caustic characters displaying racist, prejudiced and demeaning behaviors, there were always other characters on the show to counter the obviously backward thinking of the bigoted character. To continue with the “All in the Family” example, this would have been Archie Bunker’s daughter Gloria and her husband Mike.

Today’s television offerings appear to be missing this counter balance. Our young only seem to receive an unending barrage of put downs and trash talk. And this displayed behavior doesn’t even appear to have a use like social commentary or satire. It seems more like it’s being used as a car accident where people slow down or stop to look to catch a quick glimpse of the worst that life has to offer.

Our contemporary television shows seem to use this same approach to garner and hold on to viewers. However, while a momentary, occasional look at the worst life has to offer might be normal and even emotionally healthy, a steady diet of it as provided through these shows becomes role modeling for acceptable behavior in society.

Well, the “free speech” advocates certainly won’t allow any censoring of what the networks feed us, nor should they. What the networks provide for entertainment these days is only motivated by ratings and profit, not by what might ultimately be good for our society as a whole.

No, it has to come down to each of us personally. As the saying goes, we’ve each got to be the change we wish to see in the world. So this holiday season, while you are with family and friends, I challenge you to pay attention to your own communication with those around you.

Notice how often a “put down” or mean-spirited comment leaves your lips and ask yourself if this is truly the kind of person you wish to be. If you decide it’s not, then try this on for size: if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything. It will probably make for a much nicer family holiday. I have a feeling, though, that many people following this advice will find it difficult to find much of anything to say.


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