After Tucson, What Can We Say?

Posted on January 10, 2011

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What more can be said about last weekend’s horrific events in Tucson?  Plenty—and it will be, in every corner of the Capitol, in every coffee klatch around the country and in every congregation seeking to contribute to our moral healing.

We may mend our minds and souls a bit by talking, by the solace of conversation, but in the end we know that acts like the one that so severely wounded Congresswoman Giffords , that killed constituents and staff surrounding her, are the harvest of madmen.  And that is what scares us most.

For all our laws and teachings and counseling and security measures, we never know who or when to watch for the signs of a deranged executioner.  The instantaneity with which our entire world and life can change, or end, seems impossible to accept.  Even a condemned man is granted time to prepare for his demise.  Thirty-year-old Gabe Zimmerman received no such alert.  Nine-year-old Christina Green, the ill-destined 9/11 baby, had no opportunity to build a stage from which to look back on her life.

We can try to talk through all this.  We can look at all the ironies, including shooting victim Judge John Roll’s 1994 opinion holding unconstitutional the Brady Law’s provision requiring state officials to conduct background checks on gun buyers.  But we know that all the talk and analysis will do little to heal us.

We feel powerless to take action against the vagaries of insanity and repeatedly have failed to do so, even when emotional alarms of mental illness were blaring at colleagues, fellow students and teachers. Oklahoma City and Columbine and Virginia Tech and Tucson have demonstrated that we are either unwilling or unable to decode the symbols of lunacy in others.  We seem helpless to predict them or prevent them or control them.  We can’t take up arms against them, and we can’t forestall the coaxing of whatever demons invade the heads of maniacs.

So what can we do, beyond emptying ourselves in words, especially those of us in the communications arena?  We might start by adopting three changes in the way we approach others:

1.       If we see the nonsensical signs of insane communications—on social networks, in blogs, in e-mails, in school lockers—take them seriously.  They may be more than ranting; they in fact may be the foundations on which short-circuited minds are building long-range plans for disaster.

2.       In our communications, avoid making the vocabulary of violence acceptable.  Political rhetoric can be more insightful and less incitable than urging citizens to “become armed and dangerous” over an issue or to seek “Second Amendment remedies” against Congress.

3.       Attune ourselves to care a little less about dogma and a lot more about people.  It amazes me how often individuals can detail so thoroughly the intricacies of a legislative proposal or a business initiative but understand so little about the people whom it affects.  We must always begin with a perception of the end—those ultimately impacted by our actions—and then communicate our intentions in a manner that is civil rather than spiteful, caring rather than inconsiderate.

We can talk all we like after terrible events, but we must be mindful that our words do not twist into weapons.

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