Thoughts on the shooting: reform starts within
The shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and the deaths in Tuscon yesterday sent me back to re-examine a conversation I had with my son just a few days before.
Over dinner, my politically thoughtful college senior son accused me of having crossed a boundary of self-righteousness in my growing scorn towards the party now in leadership in the US House of Representatives.
Neither my intent nor my language included any semblance of violence. But the intensity of my opinions sounded to my son as unwelcome intolerance, not just toward the opposing positions, but toward the people as well. I tried to reassure him that I probably would like the current House leadership very well if I met them in person, maybe even some of the tea partiers, but even if I didn’t like them that I carried no personal animosity toward them. But it didn’t sound that way to my son.
I strongly believe in the principles of nonviolence espoused by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but this is a lifelong work not yet fully realized, as my son’s voice reminds me today.
When values collide, when the chasm between beliefs seems irreconcilable, that is when we need most to be especially vigilant about our choice of words and symbols and tone of voice.
Thank you Sam. My apologies for my dogmatism. I hear you now loud and clear.
Our sympathy to the people who loved those who were killed. Our heartfelt hopes for recovery to everyone who was physically injured and to those who witnessed such a horrific event. I especially hope for a speedy recovery of civility in political discourse and action in my beloved country.
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Vitriol and violence have been part of the American landscape since the Colonial period. At times, like yesterday, things have turned particularly ugly. But, even during better times, we remain far from the ideal. While there is no reason to believe that civil discourse will become completely civil anytime soon, I agree with Gayle that we can and must do our part to strive toward the ideal.
For the most part, we only have the power to control ourselves and our own behavior. We should begin by attempting to be more civil. Particularly in our political discourse, we should strive to be civil rather than inflammatory. We should focus on the issues and facts rather than personalities and emotions, no matter how “fun” or politically advantageous it might be to be more strident.
While being “civil” is good, it is not enough. We should also strive to be “tolerant.” We must understand that while we have our opinions and lifestyle, others have theirs. As long as they are not hurting us or others, we have a civic responsibility to tolerate others. People should be permitted to live their lives as they wish.
While being “civil” is good and being “tolerant” is better, it is still not enough. We should strive to be “accepting.” I do not mean we should accept whatever others say or do. No. What I mean is that we should be accepting of the humanity of others. Tolerance implies some level of disdain while acceptance does not.
When we are civil and accepting, not only do we create a more gentle environment, we also create the conditions necessary for persuading others. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness can’t drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can.”
There is a superb documentary that illustrates the point that I am attempting to make. It shows how bigotry and intolerance can be effectively confronted with constructive action and love. To watch “Out in the Silence” for free, visit: http://tinyurl.com/395puym. The film is about a high school boy in small-town Pennsylvania who is persecuted for being gay. The film’s producer/director went back to his hometown to chronicle events and confront the local minister who, through his bigotry, was helping to create a hostile environment. The filmmaker actually became friends with the minister and, overtime, got the minister to moderate his views. The film was fascinating and inspiring. My instinct would have been to be confrontational; it would have been ineffective. By being civil and tolerant, the filmmaker was actually able to change attitudes. It’s a powerful message. I learned a valuable lesson.
I hope that yesterday’s events will cause folks to reflect. I hope it will inspire people to change their own ways for the better. If that happens, yesterday’s innocent victims will have given us a tremendous gift through their sacrifice.
Thank you Michael for taking the time to share your thoughts and guidance.
I love when our nearly-grown children give us a chance to stop and think. My daughters do that for me frequently. So glad you have him in your life.