Tragedy always inspires blame. Even the news of the recent horror in Arizona spreading across America, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others, was not immune. True to form and never to disappoint in their predictability, liberals and conservatives gathered again, polorized by ideaology, pointing at one another to ensure continued divisiveness, reaching levels of grotesque absurdity. And language is to blame. Language?
Here are the facts: 1) There is no rhetoric and discourse, imagry or ideology to blame for this tragedy; 2) Media is not to blame; 3) Guns are not a valid source of blame; 4) Individuals who are mentally ill are not to blame; and 5) Parents, friends, acquaintences, educators and educational institutions are not to blame. Truthfully, all facts known point to just one object of blame, suspect Jared Lee Loughner, solely accused of shooting 20 people on that fateful day.
Yet, the insaciable need to assign blame beyond the simple and the obvious carries on in America. Resounding with flapping jaws and wagging fingers, raging from the left and the right, the topic of aggressive, hateful and even violent language is the topic of the season. Yes, language is receiving blame for this horrific act.
No, language did not cause these 20 people to be shot. This is, hopefully, obvious. Yet, perhaps this is a positive turn of events recovered from the aftermath of this tragedy. Perhaps it is effectively causing some to give pause to the words they use and the imagry they put forth, and perhaps they are beginning to take some responsibility for the destructive power that these words and images have.
Perhaps this is inspiring change for the better.
Americans are free to say and do mostly as they please—a freedom allowed to us through the First Amendment. Because of this I believe we have a much greater responsibility to make certain that our words and actions are fully representative of our character and the legacy we would wish to leave behind.
This is exponentially true of public figures, elected officials, commentators and all those perceived to be a credible source in some arenas. These individuals are not afforded the luxury of a take-back or an apology to erase past and even accidental harms. These words and actions linger, permeate culture and often take on a life of their own.
For all of us, language matters. Actions matter. Publicly acknowledging personal responsibility for errors in speech, language and actions matter.
This is the legacy we all will leave behind—the imagery we deliberately pass on to those who care enough to pay attention to our words—we are responsible for this.