On this peaceful and snowy Monday morning, I find myself part of a nation that is struggling to understand the weekend’s tragic shooting in Arizona, wherein a congresswoman was targeted for political elimination by a madman. While little is known about the assailant and his motivations, public conversation has begun addressing extreme political polarization and inflammatory rhetoric.
I, for one, am profoundly thankful, because this is an issue that has been breaking my heart for a long time now. As I posited in my previous commentary on words and tone in our culture, something about politics causes reasonable, polite, and intelligent people to spew vicious and abusive speech in a most careless fashion. The events in Arizona are the suspected result of such rhetoric spoken by our leaders and used by our media to inflame our sentiments against one another.
One reason this is baffling to me is that I really thought we were smarter than that. I mean, okay, I know there is a lot of ignorance and emotion out there, but when I discuss politics one-on-one, even with those to whose opinions I am diametrically opposed, we tend to be respectful and considerate. Heated conversation or not, we all seem to come from a place of knowing that people and their views are inherently valuable, even when we cannot conceive of how they came to their particular conclusions.
Cut to these same people in a group or online setting, and the vitriol with which we assassinate the character of our dissenters is staggering. Somehow, we turn legal and governmental and logistical and administrative issues into justification for curses and mockery and bullying and hate.
The fact is, we do know better than this. Countless public figures have taken an active stand against bullying of children – or anyone – based on differences we may have. Every good leadership training teaches that the only way to create solutions is to view problems from the weaknesses in the system, not in attacking the people. Even taking it as simply as possible, we all know the Golden Rule, and I know of no one among us who wakes up in the morning thinking, “Gee, I hope some one derides me – publicly or behind my back – because I voted for [insert your personal beloved or detested political figure here].”
There are many places to start pointing fingers in defense of ourselves, of course. There is culpability in the media. They do, after all, purposefully isolate sound bites and photographic images and whatever else they can use to incite us against each other. Our political leaders are incredibly careless with their mouths, and they must definitely be held accountable for their words. Even our families may have helped to send us down this path through their rantings around the television or radio at night.
The thing is, just because we are emotionally charged by a person or a commentary or even a commercial doesn’t mean that we must parrot it. After all, the political system – which is inextricably influencing every party, leader and media personality, both the ones we respect AND detest – is designed to do one thing: generate money for itself. I am not saying that there are no good hearts out there, but the party system today is singularly nourished by destructive polarization. Are we really lemmings who will follow after it to the utter demise of ourselves and others?
Death and life truly are in the power of the tongue. I am praying that we will all use ours for life.