Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nothing but Victims

A gentle reply turns away wrath, but a distressing word stirs up anger.
Mishlei (Proverbs) 15:1 

The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is such an immense tragedy because it leaves behind nothing but a trail of victims.  This includes everyone killed, injured, witnesses, the community, and even the nation as it struggles to come to terms with it.  Including Jared Loughner and his parents.  The suspect, from all the information available so far, is mentally ill, and for whatever reason went untreated with tragic consequences.

Who is to blame?  Not Sarah Palin, not the other conservative pundits, not thirty round clips, but rather a complex matrix of interrelated circumstances which have created an atmosphere not just of incivility, but something more sinister.  We just do not give a damn about other people anymore.  Everyone is mad as hell, everyone hates the other side (liberals hate conservatives and conservatives hate liberals) and the tone of the discourse is horrific.  We use such strong rhetoric, myself included, and we forget that words are powerful. 

The Torah teaches us that the world was created with words.  Words are the basic technology of human communication and everything else, including this medium, are just variations of a theme. It still all comes to words. And we are careless with that precious gift.

When you start using words that talk about killing, "taking out", "in our sights", and all those other phrases that allude to violence you are asking for trouble.  We carelessly use those  euphemisms as if they have no real consequences.  But, it is really not cute, and it is really not clever. Not anymore. It is dangerous. It is no longer just rhetoric, it is fighting words, and words that shape and form the way we deal with each other. It creates an attitude and an atmosphere.  That atmosphere was something that  Jared Loughner picked up on - it was in the vary highly charged and polarized air of Arizona he breathed in everyday. Then he acted upon what everyone else was just talking about.  The symbolic talk of violence, and killing suddenly became real.

Society failed to respond to Loughner's decompensation because of our distraction.  We have other things on our mind.  Jared Loughner is a disturbed person in a society that has been at continuous war for ten years, where people use maps with gun sights (please Sarah, ... your better than that,... they were not surveyors symbols,... they were gun sights) on them in political advertisements,  think they need thirty round clips for their pistol, and where materialism reigns.  One thing by itself is not so insidious, but all together look at the big picture.  It is heartbreaking.  We are arrogant gun slinging cowboys and we scare the crap out of the rest of the world.

This is a great country that has squandered its wealth and reputation.  We are broke.  We cannot heal the sick, feed the hungry, and we are not even willing to try anymore.  We have given up. 

Ostensibly this is a nation guided, at least in large part, by Christian values. I am Jewish, but I admire very much what seems to me to be the core values of Christianity which are beautiful.    Things like the Sermon on the Mount and the blessings it contains such as the Beatitudes.  What would Jesus do?  I don't think Jesus would have much use for a 9mm Glock, or spend the wealth of a great nation  fighting wars in two countries. I don't think Jesus would talk about killing Michael Moore.  I don't think Jesus would go to a political rally with an assault rifle.  I think Jesus would have other things to do.  Things that might make a positive difference. I think Jesus would try to heal rather than hurt or blame.

We appear to be a vindictive, mean spirited, nation of intolerant bigots. We sound like it, and we act like it.  Maybe we are, but I am not ready to concede that yet. Not entirely.  I think that we have allowed our values to be hijacked by leaders in politics and popular culture who are only after money and power.  They steal our soul. The tea party is right about one thing - the leadership of this country has failed us.

So we are all victims of this shooting.  We are all responsible as well.  Whenever we gossip and use the power of language to degrade or dehumanize another for whatever reason we do great harm. Words count.  This incident has renewed in me a respect for right speech.  It must begin with me, then I must work with my family and those within my sphere of influence not by preaching but by example in curbing my own talk.

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