Tucson and Words

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 January 12, 2011

        In the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, many are asking whether the heated rhetoric of our political discourse contributed to this terrible event.

I do not know the particulars of this case; it might have happened even if all of our politicians and pundits had spoken with love and affection about each other.  But certainly the kind of language that has been used of late can encourage some unstable person to carry out an act like this.        

The fact is that our political language and our political thinking have become extremely negative; those who do not agree with me must be evil, they must be…(and here you can put in your own characterization; if you are liberal, then “they” are fascists or tools of the major corporations or are just uncaring creeps who ignore human needs; if you are conservative, then “they” are socialists or are out to destroy America). 

Language shapes belief and thought; that is not a new idea.  If we describe others as evil, we come to see them as evil, and others do as well.  Our nation must learn to differentiate ideas and people; we must learn to oppose ideas we disagree with, but accept and embrace the people with whom we disagree.  And we need to learn to oppose ideas in reasonable and non-destructive ways.

America needs a Behavioral Covenant. 

That is not to say we ought never become emotional or be enraged at times when injustice is occurring; it is to say that we can channel that emotion and rage into positive expressions and actions.

I hope that in all of our religious communities we can model for our nation proper ways to disagree without being disagreeable, to dissent without becoming abusive of others, and to continue to embrace and value one another.