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January 11, 2011

Words Have Power: Lessons To Learn From The Arizona Tragedy

IStock_0policecarsll As much of our world recovers from yet another violent tragedy, I’m struck by the outlandish comments made by lay people, extremists and -- yes -- some of our nation’s potential leaders.  Since when has it become okay to slander, threaten, name call and even damage a person’s property because we don’t agree with the way they think?

The truth is that politics in our country today has become more and more contentious.  Politicians and we, the people, have become more and more oppositional, aggressive and downright threatening in our fight for what we believe.

Sarah Palin depicted Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the crosshairs of a rifle scope on a Facebook page and wrote: "Don't retreat! Instead - RELOAD!”  Really?  When a potential Vice President of the United States uses metaphors like this, you know things have gotten bad.  And, while I realize Sarah Palin did not literally want someone to gun down Rep. Giffords, the level of irresponsibility in this comment is jaw-dropping to say the least.  I’m no politician, but even I know that my words have power.  Have we really become so unconscious as to think that what we say doesn’t impact those around us? 

Words have power.  The way we speak not only represents who we are, how we feel and what we believe…but it also influences the way others choose to think, feel and, yes, act.  To think otherwise is not only naïve, but potentially dangerous as well.  Today the danger may hit those far away; tomorrow it may hit those close to home.

The reality, however, as Speaker John Boehner so eloquently put it, is that “an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.”  I would change this to say, “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”  While this week it was a Democrat who was shot down, tomorrow it could be a Republican and next week it could be your son or my mother or….  Until the powers that be learn to speak about their differences with respect, curiosity and civility, our world is unlikely to.  The powers that be include parents, teachers, senators, mentors, presidents, actors/actresses, professional athletes, men and women.  They include any person who influences the life of another.  In other words, civility starts with you and me.  If we can’t be civil in our discussions and in our differences, then who are we to ask that others be civil?  Who are we to demand that our children play nice if we, the grown-ups, don’t? 

Change starts with you and me.  We need to refuse to attack those who think differently from us.  We need to keep our argument on the issues, not the people debating the issues.  We need to not allow ourselves to stoop to the level of bullying our opponents through name-calling, threatening innuendos or inciting comments.  We need to stop turning back the clock and instead act like the respectful nation we purport to be.  We need to stop pointing our fingers at the left, the right, the Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers and on and on.  We are all responsible for our nation’s plight.  Every time you join in the rhetoric and make it personal, you’re responsible.  Every time you laugh at someone’s hurtful or hateful comment towards another—you are responsible.  Every time you laugh at people’s “jokes” about wanting someone squashed, killed, shot, wiped out, etc. –- you are responsible.

One day those actions or lack of actions could play a role in a repeat of the type of tragedy that happened in Arizona.  One day you and your child could be at the movies or grocery store or soccer game and be greeted by a shooter mentally incapable of knowing that "Don't retreat! Instead - RELOAD!” was just a metaphor, not a call to kill. 

Our words have power…to think otherwise is, at the very least , naïve and often tragic.

CHALLENGE:  Know that our words have power.  Use your words wisely.  Speak about others as you would have others speak about you.  This rule is not about religion or God or… It’s about being a good human being.  It’s about daring to get conscious and pay attention to how your actions impact others and the world.  All of our actions have consequences.  We need to pay attention to what these will be before we do what we do.


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Lisa, Great article and I very much agree. What has struck me as well is the level of disconnection that some continue to express that the metaphors and disrespectful, hate-filled comments are not contributors to the violence in our country. Yet, you are correct- all we can change is ourselves and each day stay relational and strive to be the best we can. Thank you for your powerful words, Jack Kakolewski

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