A little more than six years ago, the second post I wrote for this blog came after a mass shooting that targeted a congresswoman, Gabby Giffords. Six people died in that attack, and Giffords suffered serious brain damage.
Today, a man in Alexandria, Virginia, opened fire on a group of congressmen and congresswomen who were practicing for a softball game. One congressman was seriously wounded, and six other people were injured. The gunman was killed.
Much has changed in the last six years; two presidential elections have been held and the political landscape has changed radically. But the rhetoric and bile has only escalated. And I feel that what I wrote in 2011 is, unfortunately, still too true today, so I think it’s worth revisiting tonight.
Your Words Matter
Your Words Matter: I chose this phrase for my home page of this website because I thought it conveyed the essence of my work. At the time, I was thinking about finding just the right words for books and articles, ads and brochures, resumes and application letters.
But today I keep thinking about that phrase–your words matter–and how it applies to the brutal murders that took place in Tuscon, Arizona, yesterday. Six people dead, a congresswoman critically injured, a dozen directly wounded by the gunfire, countless others wounded indirectly.
It’s true that there is no way to draw a straight line from recent political debates to the man who pulled the trigger. But there is also no way to ignore the influence of the blistering insults and hyperbolic accusations that have dominated public discussion of government issues in the past few years.
Your words matter. Is there a difference between “an opponent” and “an enemy”? Between “focusing on” a race and “targeting” a candidate? Between “defeating” and “eliminating”? Although dictionary definitions of such terms may be similar, the words definitely differ in emotional currency.
It seems clear that the suspect in these shootings was mentally unstable, that words held different meanings for him than they did for most people. And that is why I am so disturbed when hateful words with violent shadings are tossed around indiscriminately and repeatedly in public discourse. Although most listeners can discern the difference between hyperbole and a call to action, some can not. Speakers and writers must take responsibility for their words, choosing them carefully so that they can spark an idea without sparking an out-of-control wildfire.
Spraying incendiary words through the airwaves or across the Internet can be as dangerous as firing a Glock into a crowd at a supermarket. You never know who you might hit or what damage you could do.
Your words matter.