OK, I admit the title is provocative. But, with the events of yesterday where Rep. Giffords and others were injured or killed, I can’t help but think of Palin’s comments through the election: ‘Don’t retreat. Reload.’ I am sure she isn’t the only one who has used this language, and I doubt it will end with what happened in Arizona. Already the blame game has been going on and those who have used such language have been defending its use. And I find myself feeling sorrow.
Yes, for the victims. For the one – Rep. Giffords – whose involvement has (without her even knowing it) made this tragedy into a political debate taken to a new level (this is of course not her fault, but because of her job people are asking different questions). For those whose names are lost (or at least not on our lips) because a Representative was shot. I can’t imagine what life is like for their families now and what they will have to go through. So my sorrow is first for them. I can only pray for them.
But, I also have sorrow for the way the political debate in the US has taken this nasty turn. Yes, this was the action of a deranged human being who likely has his own story, but it’s not a story isolated from what he likely heard around him. A friend wrote on my Facebook page today commenting on reactions when she tries to start a discussion on this topic:
“Oh, don’t be so literal and serious. Everyone knows the difference between hyperbole and reality. Get a sense of perspective.” Narratives matter and words matter but how do you convince folk who don’t believe that either?
Narratives do matter, and we create stories that we then look through to view the world. The more we talk about these stories and share them (especially with other like-minded people), they become entrenched. This isn’t altogether bad. I see the church as a story-formed community centred around Jesus. I do hope, though, that we have the opportunity to allow our own story to be challenged by others with a different point of view (years ago, my point of view would have been the one described by my friend on Facebook). But, this can also have a negative effect. I remember years ago when I was going through a situation which was stressing me and I had a friend who simply fed me out loud with what the story going on inside of me was telling. It shaped my attitude toward the situation and hampered the badly needed objectivity I needed. Narratives and the rhetoric we surround ourselves do matter.
Is this to say that everyone who uses language like Palin’s is going to go out and shoot someone? I hope not, and I doubt it. But that’s not really the question. The negativity and polarisation that the language causes has a harmful effect, even if neither side has someone shoot people outside in the car park. But does it need to go that far before we see what we are becoming? Does it need to go this far before we realise the very hateful way we talk to each other? Does it need to go this far before we see that characterising others as evil or unAmerican or whatever is a step toward seeing another as insignificant? Is this language helpful in political discourse?