Violence and Language
Photo: Violence and Language
It is hard to not to be thinking about the violence that recently took place in Arizona. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those who were present at the shooting, but I am also thinking of us, the American public, as a whole. On some level I think we have forgotten a fundamental tenet of free speech and democracy, and that is the civility that is required for discourse and debate.
The events in Arizona are the work of a particularly disturbed young man who thought violence was the answer to whatever question he had personally posed. Without a doubt we will hear more about the warning signs that led to his actions that were missed and perhaps we can, as a whole, figure out how to address those signs more effectively in the future. But beyond the frightening behavior of this individual I think we must learn that while our language may not trigger a particular set of actions, language does change the tenor of a conversation.
This shift in tenor allows us, maybe even encourages us, to move from rigorous discourse, disagreeing while respecting those with differing opinions, to aggressive verbal assault, vilifying those who have ideas that are different from ours. While saying something is not the same as doing something, language is powerful enough to generate action. And the escalating anger and violence in our rhetoric definitely has an impact our thoughts and behavior. We are all different and it is possible that our personal thoughts and ideas that may or may not resonant with others. But as Americans we do share some principles and values, regardless of our philosophical differences. We believe in free speech but also individual responsibility.
As we reflect on this horrific event and send energy and prayers to those immediately affected by the violence, remember that this historical event impacts all of us. We have a responsibility to ourselves and each other. Our language is important and we should use it judiciously. We must respect those who disagree with us as much as we do those who agree with us. Our responsibility as citizens of this country is to create a space where we can disagree safely.