Beyond the Rhetoric

Pointing fingers

It is hard to think that there might be anything left to share that hasn’t already been said following the events in Tucson last week.

To call this an unthinkable act simply does not give this justice.

In a just a few seconds, the lives of so many have been forever altered, and I fear our democracy may be as well; not just because our representatives may become even more inaccessible to their constituents than they ever were before, but because a country cannot thrive when it is ruled by fear.

Almost immediately following the horrific events on Saturday, Twitter and the blogosphere came alive; first with questions of, “Why?” and “Who?” and very quickly followed with far-fetched assumptions and finger-pointing. As we were all dizzy with a heavy mix of sadness, fear, and confusion, we reached to the only place we knew to go: those people.

So quick were we to wonder about the religious background and reading list of the killer; because surely these would identify the “responsible party.” So quick were we to search every Palin speech and every Beck and Limbaugh broadcast, looking for the one thing that MUST have set-off this would-be assassin. So quick were we then to respond by spending all of our waking hours rummaging for stones to cast back across the isle; because we could not bear to think that any one of us was more responsible than those people. I am ashamed that too much of my time over the past few days has been dedicated to tuning into programs I would not ordinarily support, knowing that my emotions would reach an all-time high.

Maybe I just needed to be angry; or perhaps this is our reaction because deep down we feel that it must be impossible for just one person to create such a large ripple in our pond; especially when this single individual has made this wave by doing something so horrendous.

Over the past days I have been restless as I struggled with my own internal debate about our language, our power of influence, and the responsibilities that come along with those. I was disheartened at the haste with which we assigned blame to others instead of combining our efforts to rise up and lead forward in solidarity. How are we to defeat the violent rhetoric if we give it so much power?

At the same time I was angry at those who have chosen to use their power to spread messages that are disingenuous at best and intentional fear-mongering at worst. But, through all of this I keep coming back to the same question:

How can we use our voices to reveal injustices and, at the same time, not allow our collective voices to give rise to hate and fear, giving those who perpetuate violence more power than they deserve?

Much of the debate that has been raging on in the media reminds me so much of the arguments that happened over ten years ago, as those of us who occupied high school classrooms attempted to wrap our minds around the Columbine Massacre.

Ironically, it was conservatives at that time who were ready to ban Marilyn Manson from stages across our country and who were ready to protest stores that sold his albums. “These musicians influence our feeble-minded children,” the argument went, “so those people are responsible for teaching our kids this violent behavior.”

I don’t remember where I was when I heard about the shooting and I don’t remember much about the news coverage in the days immediately thereafter; however, I do remember feeling sad and confused about what had happened and, above all, I felt anxiety about how our lives were to move forward.  While the media and politicians were busy debating censorship I, WE, had to go back to school. Life did not stop.

For a few days after Columbine, the high school I attended excused students who were not yet ready to return. My brother and I were never really ones for school, but nothing could keep us from going back as soon as the doors had opened. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of pride as we walked to our classes alongside my dad and the few other students, teachers, and parents who stood together with us on those few uncertain days.

Eventually, our lives seemed to get back to normal; although the new “normal” involved school lock-downs and make-up days at the end of the year; not because of weather closings, but because of the incredible amount of bomb threats our schools started to endure. All of these years, and countless debates later, and we still have not discovered the magic formula that lead to that fateful day.

This is not to say that these debates are not important at all; in fact, we need to consider that by focusing our energy on these debates in the midst of a crisis diminishes not only the suffering of those who are mourning, but also lessens the value of the issues at hand. I am not suggesting that we light-heartedly “drop it” until a better time, but that we take a moment to introduce a little bit of level-headedness back into the equation. It is important to deeply consider the consequences of our words and the power of our influence on others, so let’s consider it; deeply and sincerely. We have all said things that do not reflect our peaceful ideals and we ought to afford others the same opportunity to learn and do better.

I am ready for the moment where we walk through those figurative high school doors, proud to stand together in honor of those who suffered the most.

I want us to recognize that we all have a part to play, and that assigning blame is not the same as shining a light on injustice so that we may do better.

I do not want us to slowly, angrily sink back into life as we knew it before this tragedy; I want to intentionally move forward, better, because of it. This can’t happen as long as we are focused on lifting up hate and violence, even if we do so because we think we are speaking out against it. The more time we spend assigning and deflecting blame, the less time is spent tilting the scales back toward love, justice, and healing.

I, for one, am ready to walk through those doors; a new “normal” of our own creation awaits us on the other side. I am ready. Are you?

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Gandhi