Yes, what we say matters
"We're not all like that," Muslims constantly have to remind us. Yet, in times of crisis, people forget. Times like when an Army major shoots up a post and people start to howl because "those people" are in the military to begin with. And not just "those people," but anyone of Middle Eastern origin, because folks are unable to differentiate the distinction.
The howls start to gain traction to the point that folks who are only moderately conservative begin to agree. "Hmm ... maybe we should keep 'those people' out of the military."
Now that the shoe's on the other foot and some are accusing the Tea Party in toto of creating an anger-charged atmosphere, it's heartening to see some on the right realize that yes, words matter.
"You have to be very careful what you say," Patrick Beck, president of the Mohave County Tea Party in Northern Arizona told The Washington Post this weekend. "We live in a very polarized environment here in the United States, and while I do believe in the Second Amendment, no one should be referring to Second Amendment solutions. I've given many speeches to my group and at different events in my area, and in doing so I'm very conscious of who's listening. When I look out at the crowd, 99 percent of the people I see are just like me -- average every day Americans who want constitutional government, fiscal responsibility, things of that nature. Every once in a while, though, I see someone -- how should I put it? -- who is getting too excited, who seems a little farther on the fringe. ...I realized I had to tone down my comments a little bit, less yelling and screaming and more educational."
We all need to be conscious of who's listening. All the time. Because while most people can process political hyperbole for what it is, there are "very disturbed" individuals who can't.
That's not to say that politicians who call for "Second Amendment remedies" or who like their constituents to be "armed and dangerous" are directly responsible for Saturday's shooting. But they are responsible for helping to poison the well. Insurrection over an environmental bill? Really? What ever happened to disagreeing without being disagreeable?
And when political figures post graphics depicting opponents "in the crosshairs," no amount of backpedaling, no number of claims that the visuals were surveyor's symbols, not gun sights is going to ring true.
It might be just a rhetorical flourish to them, but "don't retreat, reload" also has an immediate visual association they can't deny no matter how hard they spin when subsequent events turn tragic.
I'm as guilty as they are. I discovered this weekend that I've misused the word "evil" so often in joking ways that the kids have no clue as to its true meaning. Any offense from a snatched toy to a timeout for sassing is labeled "evil."
"No, it's not," I told Big Guy Sunday. "You might think those things are really, really bad, but you're not old enough to know what 'evil' truly means."
I promise to do better, because people in positions of responsibility must act responsibly. I hope others will join me.
Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.