I don’t tend to talk much politics on my blog, but every once in a while, it’s a necessity. This is one of those times.
In the wake of the deaths of six people, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal district court judge, and the shooting of 13 others, including Gabrielle Giffords, who is miraculously still fighting for her life, a lot of people on the left were quick to place blame on certain conservative commentators and politicians for inciting the shooter with their rhetoric. They were quick to do this even when it wasn’t entirely clear what the shooter’s motives were (and I still think it’s unclear; the young man is clearly unhinged, but whether any particular ideology can be considered responsible for his actions is a big question to me). People on both sides of the political spectrum are now calling for more civility in our country’s dicourse, and I think that would be nice but…frankly, I’m not holding my breath.
Why not? Partly, because political discourse has NEVER been particularly civil in the United States. Honestly, some of the stuff we think of as “over-the-top” these days (Sarah Palin’s gunsight map of targeted Congressional Districts, for example) would be considered laughingly polite by 19th century standards. If you want to see brutal political lambasting, just look up “Lincoln+cartoons” on Google and see what you get.
But the other reason I’m not holding my breath is because I know I am not always as temperate as I could be when people I disagree agree with express opinions I find morally reprehensible. As a Unitarian-Universalist, I am committed as a basic principle to respect the dignity and worth of all other human beings, but that doesn’t mean (I don’t think) that I have to respect their ideas when I find them to be bigoted, intolerant, uneducated, or just plain stupid.
Still, as I’ve been ruminating on the meaning of the events in Tucson and what they mean, I’m reminded of something our minister said in a sermon a few years back. He couldn’t find a source for this quote and I haven’t been able to, either, but I really believe the sentiment it expresses and I imagine if everyone took these words to heart, the world would be a better, safer place for everyone:
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
Watch your character, for it is your destiny.