Thursday, January 13, 2011

Healing Words

President Obama - "It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds."

In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson, our nation is finding itself on the brink of finally recognizing something that most kids learn in any high school writing course.  To quote a polar opposite who would be the first to jump up in fury to be quoted in the same blog post as President Obama, it was Rush Limbaugh who notably said "Words mean things."

Sounds simple, doesn't it?  That's because it is.  We seem to have forgotten, as a people, that our words actually mean something, and we have drifted, as a society, into a dangerous current of inflammatory rhetoric that does nothing but demean us all. 

One prime example of this was a couple of weeks ago, when talking head Tucker Carlson made the statement that convicted football star Michael Vick ought to have been executed for participating in dogfighting.

When I read that comment, prior to the acts of violence in Tucson, I thought to myself "Man, we have surely gone so far over the line there is no turning back."  Seriously?? Execute a man for dogfighting?  Is THAT the kind of punishment, we as Americans, want to mete out?  Did Mr. Carlson even think for half a second before that sort of vitriol and disregard for human life left his lips?  Are our commentators so hung up on gaining the highest ratings that they would stoop to this level to garner attention? 

And do we leave no room at all for redemption??

Tucker Carlson must have realized belatedly that he overstepped, as a week later while a guest on Sean Hanity's show he "took it back". 

Daily on television and radio we hear hyperbole and venom spewed out.  We all have become somewhat dulled by it, for we actually expect to hear the attacks that are part of the media's one-upmanship to claw their way to the highest ratings without a moment's thought about how the loss of civil discourse has forever changed the attitudes of the American people.  Step by step, we inch ever closer to a precipice which leads to a long and terrible fall as we realize collectively that we have gone too far, we are no longer a nation where political opponents can respectfully agree to disagree. 

I am not saying that the event in Tucson was in any way brought on by a specific commentator or that Jared Loughner was even influenced by the sort of inflamatory discourse that we all hear every single day.  What I am saying is that we need to pause and reflect about what kind of society we want to be, and what constitutes effective national conversation.  We need to be more aware that "words mean things' and recognize that our own receptiveness and rapt attention to the collective "talking heads", be they liberal or conservative, is what fuels the fireball that rolls downhill,  eventually causing a conflagration of historic proportions.  It is so easy for us, as the listening and viewing public, to point fingers at the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, and the Bill Mahers.

The finger of accusation really needs to be pointed back at us.

We need to use our words to heal, as President Obama suggests.  We need to use our words to create bridges of understanding and cooperation...not to label and categorize ourselves, backing those whose opinions differ from ours into a corner so firmly that they come out swinging.  And then we swing back, but this time with a baseball bat.  It is really no different than a sandlot fight between middle schoolers that escalates until someone gets seriously hurt.

What if every time someone like Tucker Carlson made such statements, the radio and TV stations were inundated with calls and emails from both liberals and conservatives exhorting the Powers that Be to tone it down?  What if every time Rush Limbaugh danced too close to the edge with his powerful rhetoric, his listenership dwindled?  What if every time Bill Maher crossed the line with his put downs and snarky ridiculing, his station was boycotted? 

We the people can demand a more civil world.  After all, aren't we all tired of the screaming and meaningless hyperbole?  Aren't we all sick to death of the partisanship?  Don't you wish that, just for once, the folks we all send to Washington would shut up and do their jobs without purposely trying to stall simply because the guy or gal across the aisle suggests something different? 

We tell our children on the school playgrounds to "play nice", we tell them not to call each other names or to physically push each other around.  But until the adults in America decide to "play nice" you might as well hold your breath, for although "words mean things", actions will always speak louder than words.  We need leaders who lead with words that mean different things than the words of our leaders of the recent past have meant.  We need leaders who recognize that we indeed need to talk to one another in ways that heal, not wound.  Whether you like Obama or not, it is hard to argue with that.

Until we figure out how to turn the corner, I fear we will continue to live in a country where words are used as arrows, where comments are swung like baseball bats.

Words that heal, not wound...sorta sounds like a Jesus thing to say, doesn't it?


Anonymous said...

I heard on public radio this morning that a bill has been introduced into the US Congress to require Republicans and Democrats to sit together--not separated on different sides of the aisle--during the President's State of the Union address. This is to demonstrate political civility and to encourage cooperation. What a sad commentary that we must introduce legislation to compel civility and cooperation, and does anyone hearing this for one minute think that this symbolic act will change the vitriol going on in Congress and the nation.

Just wondering,

Anonymous said...

Right on sister!