I’ve now had a day and night to process my projections on the events of yesterday in Tucson. I’m grieving, with the sense that we, as a democracy, have been attacked, and at the same time mourning for the individuals who were present at the shooting—including those who died, were physically injured, and the eyewitnesses who were psychically scarred. I include in my mourning the young man with the gun, so lost to his own paranoia that he could believe that acting on such a violent impulse was the right thing to do.
My first projection on hearing the news through links posted on Facebook was that this is what hatemongering leads to. An interesting, and civil, discussion of other points of view ensued on my Facebook post about it. One friend said that this young man should have been helped, and his access to weaponry was a failure of our mental health care system and the regulation of gun ownership. Another friend argued with me that we shouldn’t point fingers at Palin—that we don’t have to look far to find a long history of gun metaphors in our political and sports discourse.
My friends are right, and indeed, in the hours that followed, blogs and commentators plunged deep into the recognition that our political speech has gotten too militant to be in agreement with one of the basic principals of our constitution: the peaceful transition of power. I’m not naïve; I know that despite our ideals, our history has far too many examples of assassination and murder influencing political course. Yet we have to recognize that words have the power to shape our shared understanding of the world in which we live, and the ideas that gain traction in our discourse find ways to manifest in our physical lives.
JasonAshlock on Twitter commented that Sarah Palin was guilty “of the irresponsible use of metaphor.” He captures the point exactly. Politicians have long recognized the power of language. Ad agencies know how crucial just the right slogan is. Poets understand the layers of meaning within word choice. Dream readers imagine the whole dream as a metaphor for waking life situations.
To buy into violence is to choose the destructive, rather than the creative, path. If we are to survive as a species, we’ll need to be creative to solve our problems. We’ll have to find compassion for the wounded, the sick, the criminal. We’ll have to change our public discourse. For too long, we’ve let penny-pinchers tell us we should keep what we possess at the expense of others, leaving too many in our society hungry, literally and metaphorically. Too many are excluded from contributing their talents because of poverty or skin color or any of the hundreds of ways we classify “otherness.”
We are a creative people. Let’s start using gardening metaphors instead of war metaphors. Instead of trying to “beat” the opponent, let’s try to “grow” support for our own candidate or idea. Let’s dream up a new way of envisioning our world.