Gosh darn I hope this is a trend. DailyDog reports that Goldman Sachs is banning bad language from internal emails. I’ve been talking about “toxic talk” for some time now and believe that the cursing, swearing, foul language combined with the vitriol and hyper-partisanship that characterizes so much of social media and blogs is damaging. Damaging to the people who participate, damaging to the ones they intend to damage, but most of all damage to the soul of our communities and society. I’m glad Goldman is taking this position and I hope it is not merely, as DailyDog suggests, part of their effort to clean up their image. It’s not that I would be dismissive of this step in helping clean up their image. I would rather it be done because it is a healthy, right thing to do.
Reminds me of a research project I did years ago for the construction industry. In much better construction times than these they were faced with a severe shortage of young people entering the field. This despite paying probably the highest starting wages of any industry. So I did some research among high school students as to their interest in construction as a career. I found that the biggest obstacle to considering the industry was their perception of the people in the industry. Who wants to invest their lives with people they find disgusting. They referred to the leering and catcalls directed at young women from construction crews. They referred to the filthy, unkempt appearance. And they referred to the bad language. My recommendation was to train workers to treat the public with respect, train them to treat each other with respect, wear uniforms and improve physical appearance, and ban swearing. This advice went over about as well as a toad in a punchbowl. Oh, I also advised they do some PR and advertising showing some of the outstanding young men and women who were happily making construction a career–that part they liked.
Some no doubt are attracted to the profane, testosterone environment of the trading floor. But, our world is changing. We’re tired of the kind of free for all environment, greed and excesses that are at the heart of the financial mess we are in. Cleaning up the language isn’t going to change the world. But, like continually scrubbing graphiti off the subways in NYC, it just may be the tipping point to begin removing some of the toxicity of our discourse and society. I hope there are many others who follow Goldman’s example.