My bestie Reed once said to me, “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.”

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

At the time she was referring to my ill-conceived decision to grab scissors and give myself some bangs. She was right, it was not a good look for me, but her larger sentiment, the moral of the story, applies to other things.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially as it relates to what seems to be an explosion in the public posting of profanity – on banners, on houses, on lawn signs, displayed on car windows and bumpers.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not “anti-swearing.” I am a huge fan of the research linking it to intelligence – and pain tolerance, by the way.

I am also a rabid defendant of the right to free speech. To echo the famous sentiment of Voltaire, I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it. Naturally, that goes for writing it, too.

But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

For example, when I opt to use colorful language, I am mindful of the audience. I’m not out there shocking grandparents or scarring children. I’m not swearing randomly in public or other inappropriate settings. I choose to self-censor. Because that’s how the social contract works.

And that’s the thing about these public postings – there’s no choice made. It’s out there. All the time. No matter the audience. No matter the setting or situation.

Primarily, I am thinking here of public displays of … well, see? That’s the thing. I can’t even write it out here in the newspaper. But I bet you know what I mean. There’s a common theme here: an expletive followed by “your feelings” or, more commonly, the name of a Democratic politician.

This is 100% protected speech.

And yet.

I find these signs annoying, I suppose because they are so clearly aimed at me – or those who vote the way I do. So it feels really personal. Like being yelled at on the street by someone you’ve never even met. Well, actually, it pretty much is exactly that.

The impact of these signs was brought home to me when a friend’s young son, stuck behind a car with a message written across the rear window as they waited in line at a drive-thru, sat in silence and then said, “I feel like that person could never be my friend.”

Which is heartbreaking – and possibly not even true. I’ve had so many times in my life when an unexpected conversation leads to a friendship – or at least a moment of connection – with someone outside my usual circle, someone with whom I disagree, but still enjoy as a human.  The public declaration of animosity cuts off that possibility. That’s a shame.

The bangs eventually grew out. I suspect this fad will likewise pass. I worry though that the damage done to the fabric of our social contract won’t be so easily fixed. How can we find common ground and build a collective future from here?

I miss civility. I miss politeness. I will forever stand by the right to say these things, while also longing for a time when no one ever would.

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