Sunday, January 9, 2011

Words matter

The old adage was that "stick and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me. " Maybe that was true when the saying was coined but it's not true now. We have seen a lethal coarsening of political verbiage in the United States. Political insults are nothing new; go back to the Andrew Jackson's campaign for president to read some insults that make today's rhetoric look like a nursery rhyme. Men brought guns to his campaign speeches or the political campaigns of Lincoln and Douglas (to name a few). But American was still a frontier society and men lived by hunting. However, we sure aren't now and the politicians urging violence against their opponents are beginning to reap a horrible harvest, one which threatens us all.

From William Jefferson Clinton's speech after the bombings in Oklahoma:

Words matter: [W]hat we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or reduce our passion from the positions we hold -- but that the words we use really do matter, because there's this vast echo chamber and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. And I am not trying to muzzle anybody. But... no law can replace personal responsibility. And the more power you have and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have.

Look, I'm glad they're fighting over health care and everything else. Let them have at it. But I think all you have to do is read the paper everyday to see how many people there are who are deeply, deeply troubled.... By all means, keep fighting. By all means, keep arguing. But remember words have consequences as much as actions do. And what we advocate commensurate with our position and responsibility, we have to take responsibility for. We owe that to Oklahoma City...
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Zoomie said...

And to Gabby Gifford. I couldn't agree more - freedom of speech is good but we must be very, very careful with our language and intentions.

A Cuban In London said...

Freedom of speech is good as long as it's upheld by mature grown-ups for mature grown-ups in a context where mature grown-ups can interact. When name-calling ensues, then freedom of speech is dealt a deadly blow. Literally.

You have written a very coherent, well-articulated post. The kind that should permeate every political conversation, not just in the US, but also all over the world. Sadly, that's not the case. Your last lines are the best. We have to take responsibility.

Many thanks for such a brilliant post.

Greetings from London.