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When I tell people that I don’t swear, I usually get one of two responses. Either the people I’m talking with immediately try to get me to say a “bad” word, or they raise a wry eyebrow and say something along the lines of, “Wow, you’re so innocent.”

To which I reply, “Yep, I am.”

When we see the word innocence, many of us may think of the oblivious naiveté of childhood, or the embarrassment of being the last person to “get” the innuendo in the joke, or perhaps feeling out of place alongside more experienced colleagues. Few of us would peg innocence as a positive trait.

However, it’s time we got beyond thinking of innocence as a weakness or a hindrance. Once we clarify what it really is, innocence reveals itself as a tremendously valuable trait that the modern woman can and should intentionally cultivate.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: innocence is not naiveté. Naiveté is an unconscious state similar to ignorance: when we are naive, we don’t react properly to negative situations or content because we are simply unaware of them. Innocence, however, is a conscious state. When we embrace innocence, we deliberately decide to avoid the negative elements of content or conversation that could cause us long-term harm.

Innocence is a deliberate series of choices that we make to preserve and cultivate our personal integrity. It’s like keeping mud and dirt out of my house: I want my house to be clean, but right now there’s a Michigan winter out there, so I take my shoes off at the door before I track sludge through the house. That way, my home stays bright and clean, a welcome refuge from the cold nastiness outside, both for myself and for everyone who comes over. Innocence serves a similar purpose—to keep our inner lives clean and lovely, free from images and thoughts that we don’t want to have embedded in our minds.

The modern woman has a lot of information coming at her every day. Between emails, advertising, social media, TV, radio, and many different conflicts and conversations with people around us, we are constantly bombarded with images, words, sounds, and ideas, not all of them good. If we want to focus our mental and emotional energies on the worthy and lovely things in our lives, it is essential that we find a way to filter out the material coming at us that can negatively impact our hearts and minds. When we deliberately decide to be innocent, our innocence acts as a gatekeeper, turning away some of the distorted or harmful things we face and keeping them from rooting themselves in our mind. 

The counterintuitive element of innocence is that to be innocent, we must also be rather shrewd in our judgement. To choose innocence we must have a clear sense of what ideas would, if cultivated, help us flourish and those thoughts that would, if allowed, undermine our flourishing. You can’t cultivate a good garden if you can't tell the weeds from the flowers.

In my case, I love words, and since I’m an avid reader, writer, and talker, they fill my life. Because I love and use them so much, I want my writing and speech to be powerful. For some people, an occasional swear word might be used to communicate strength. But I also want my writing and speech to be beautiful and complete. For me, obscene or profane language would undermine the messages I want to convey through my conversation and through articles like this one by distracting or even offending my audience and obscuring the points I’m trying to make. My language, if abused, could sabotage the intimacy of personal relationships I’ve built with a diverse array of people. For these reasons, I’ve consciously chosen to keep “bad words” and vulgar speech out of my vocabulary.

I didn’t make this choice because I don’t know how to swear (ironically, I’m training to be a sailor) or because I never feel emotion that warrants a strong outburst of language. I need my mind and tongue to serve my purposes, and using foul language would undermine those purposes.

However, to build my skill of using language in this way, I need to build up a habit of innocence.

When we’re self-aware about our habits of innocence, we might make choices like avoiding or turning off movies or TV shows that objectify women because that worldview has been affecting our own. It may mean curating our music choices or our podcast playlists to help us focus our minds on healthier topics (as an avid true-crime podcast listener, I often need to take a step back and realize that too many violent serial killer stories may not be the best for me).

At the same time that innocence means keeping out harmful things, it also helps us exert more control over ourselves, allowing us to really, fully engage with beautiful and uplifting things. Innocence isn’t a kill-joy—it serves as our mental and emotional filter. It helps us consciously choose to engage with concepts, content, and conversations that strengthen and empower us while refraining from those that weaken or undermine us. The more we cultivate innocence, the more discerning we will become and the more beautiful our inner landscape will become.

When we make a conscious effort to cultivate innocence, we’re choosing to act according to the priorities we have set for how we spend our time and attention. This may seem strange to the people around you (I certainly get some raised eyebrows from my fellow mariners). However, evaluating your principles and choosing to avoid ideas, words, or habits that jeopardize them leaves you freer to focus your mind on what is good, true, and beautiful.

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