Monday, January 10, 2011

Good Words for Hard Times

Ever since the shooting in Arizona on Saturday, I've been struggling for some way to address it. I tried finding a poem to offer solace and comfort, but I haven't had much luck. However, like the speaker in Stephen Dunn's "To a Terrorist," I feel like I must "[speak] out loud to cancel my silence."

Beyond the tragedy of the people killed and the others injured, one of the most maddening things that has arisen from this experience is the finger pointing that started almost immediately after the shootings. The anger is certainly understandable, but what makes my head pound is the fact that we, as a nation and as a human family, cannot just allow ourselves a few days to mourn with the victims and their families.

Furthermore, there is the sinking but undeniable feeling that we, as a society, are all guilty. We didn't pull the trigger that severely injured Representative Giffords or killed 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, but our acceptance (either by tuning in or by ignoring it in the hope that it would go away) of the violent rhetoric spouted in the name of politics makes us all culpable to this tragedy. Furthermore, the fact that people are so quick to brandish freedom of speech as a rationale for spouting this vitriol is wrong-headed and heartbreaking. As Paul Krugman so eloquently put it in his op-ed column:
There's room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn't any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary. And it's the saturation of our political discourse -- and especially our airwaves -- with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence... [E]ven if hate is what many want to hear, that doesn't excuse those who pander to that desire. They should be shunned by all decent people.
These words ring too true. Perhaps some people need to remember (or be reminded by others) that just because you can say doesn't make it right and it certainly doesn't mean that you should say it.

So what about those good words I mention in the post title? In this time of sorrow, I've found myself turning to a rather surprising source for comfort: Bill Clinton. During the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial service, Clinton offered these thoughts:
Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, let us "not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."