Ramblings on language, Giffords, and the cause du jour. . .

I try to wrap my head around big issues down to 4 concepts. It’s a habit. Like if there was a magical wand I could show things were more the same than they were different.  This week between starting a new job, a blizzard and being generally disgusted over things in general, I decided to kick back and think. Ok, this is USUALLY not a good idea for me but since I just found out that I’m a member of the newest zodiac sign, I think I should get to create my own space.

I heard about the t-shirt debate in Tuscon.  Ok, as an individual with event planning on her resume, it wouldn’t have been my call. I haven’t seen/heard where they came from: I thought they were a bit tacky. Like, attend a memorial service, get a t-shirt! And then I thought, well, what if it was a small business who wanted to do something to make sure people DON’T forget and this is what they can do (still tacky to give away at a memorial service) but a new spin on the gesture. (And right now U of A is taking requests for the shirts so I think it’s less politically motivated and is more a university which gives out things like t-shirts to attract people to attend.)

The memorial service occurred at the University of Arizona basketball arena. Tickets were not by lottery but by standing in line. Who stands in line? College students. There is an entire conversation about manners but remembering trying to be a 19-year-old radical…let’s just say, I probably would have been one of the people clapping and cheering. Maybe it’s part maturity, part the idealism that is on college campuses (on any issue!) in grabbing the tragedy and working for change. Who knows? I’m not an Obama fan, but to blame this one on him, is a stretch. 

I somehow managed to watch the show after Chris Mathew’s on MSNBC tonight where the host said something along the lines of “the Republicans need to stop using the language of hate.” Check that: as a nation we need to stop being careless with our words: Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans, heck even Green Party members are careless with saying things regarding “killing a piece of legislation”.

I watched this debate about who is more to blame about the hate language. Here is a novel idea: we all are. ALL of us. (Ok, there is probably somebody who has never said “I want to murder xxxx.” or “We are going to kill them (on the ball field)).  We use words with violent meaning (going postal anybody?) metaphorically everyday. I do it. I’ve been trying to watch myself as I believe we’ve become so casual with our language that it does lead to cultural shift of tolerance.  Individuals can pick sides over is it too many guns? Video games? Parents? How about a simplistic concept of “watch what you say…”No, I probably really don’t want to harm somebody when frustrated. But I’ve said it. Maybe if we start working at saying “I’m angry with xxx.” and not “I’m going to rip their head off”.

There is so much discussion about how we need to change the way we speak to hear today, that now individuals are trying to blame other individuals…well, let’s face it: I’m one of the last people on earth to defend Sarah Palin: but to blame her for this shooting, is like blaming one of my cats. 

Yes, her language is careless, divisive and a host of other things.  But it was more of  a perfect storm.  A mentally ill person (who could not be mandated into receiving treatment), gun/bullet laws that have tragedies like this happen far too often, and the stories of those killed: a child born on 9/11, a man protecting his wife, the stories of the heroes: a staffer who knew *what* to do to give Rep. Giffords a chance, being close to a Level I trauma center and the 2 people who wrestled the gunman down seem to focus this on our ‘issue of concern’ until the next one comes along.

This week has seen tragedy in other parts of the world: the 13-year-old boy telling rescuers to save his brother instead of him in Australia, hundreds killed in flooding in Brazil, the one year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake and the lack of mobilization of resources/funding in place that has a cholera outbreak going on and people living in tents a year after the fact.

I’m not saying what happened in Tuscon wasn’t and isn’t a tragedy. It is on so many levels.  We have lost our ability to communicate politely, respectfully.  We have lost compassion for the other.  We forget one tragedy as soon as the next one happens.  We try to find somebody to blame instead of saying there is a systemic issue we need to examine and fix.

It’s easy to forget that, for some people, language doesn’t have metaphor. When my niece was 3ish, I asked her when she got legs (I swear they sprouted inches overnight!). She answered “I always have had legs” with a reminder from my sister that children are very literal. So are some adults.

I don’t know an answer….I’m not sure there is one unless we as a nation, as individuals, decide that it’s time to stop the hate and work towards a more peaceful, equitable future. Until then, well, we know the pattern: Columbine becomes VA Tech becomes Tuscon. . . . and each time, we act surprised.

And maybe it’s not that 19-year-old wanna be radical speaking but the person with covered up grey hair thinking, we all had a part in Tuscon. We need to learn. We need to act. And we need to put an end to this behavior.

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