This past week, a troubled and unstable young man in Arizona killed innocent people at a public gathering. Strengthened gun laws would not have stopped him. Increased security would not have dissuaded him. He planned this attack in advance, and he was not going to be deterred.
An innocent 9-year-old girl is now dead. As is a Federal judge and four others. Several were wounded. Some remain in the hospital, including the intended victim, a congresswoman who was holding a constituent gathering at the supermarket where the shooting occurred.
Everyone looks for a reason. Why would someone perform such a heinous act? Why, after already striking his intended target, would he continue shooting and injure and kill so many others?
These are not questions that have simple answers. The shooter, we now learn, had a history of instability and alienation from reality. In his warped and twisted logic, what he did was heroic and brave. Or maybe it was just a simple act of expression in his mind, as disgusting as that might be to the rest of us.
But, it points out a problem with the tone of public discourse. Crazy people listen, and they hear voices!
I've written in this space before about the nasty turn that public debate has taken in the last decade. Where once rules of etiquette and decorum would have prevailed, ratings and headlines now rule. Rush and Keith only attract advertisers when they are louder, angrier and meaner. They say outrageous things, and their ratings go up.
You and I may shake our heads in amazement at this circus sideshow. We value ourselves as rational beings who recognize the spectacle that it has all become, and we switch the dial or turn off the TV.
But, for someone who already has doubts about themselves, about the world, about life, this elevated emotional drama is nectar. They hear the same tone from the commentators that they hear in their heads, and they start to listen. Rather than trying to put all the pieces together into a coherent whole, the troubled person becomes more fearful, more angry and more motivated.
Discourse from our elected officials doesn't help.
In Washington or in Austin, the key phrases and words sound more like a war room discussion than a political discourse. "We are going to crush our opposition." "We plan to kill anything they propose." "We will eliminate them during the next election."
You and I are disheartened to see civility and informed debate fall to spitefulness and screaming matches. The crazy person embraces it and luxuriates in having found kindred souls. There is no logic in why they embrace such ideas and then take action that carries it such deadly extremes. But, there is predictability in it having reached this point.
When I was a child, my mother was quick to reprimand us when we said we "hated" something. "We don't hate," she would remind us. "We may dislike something, or we may not be happy with someone, but we must not hate."
And yet, hate persists.
For most of us, we are able to separate the jumbled rhetoric from the shameless emotional showmanship and we then find the truth in the affair. But, not everyone in our world is rational. Not everyone wants to know the truth. Not everyone values their fellow man enough to know that taking a life is not justified in most situations.
I was heartened as this week began and Congress began to "dial down" their rhetoric. The elected officials who served with Congresswoman Giffords know that they will also be heading out into their constituencies soon, and they know that there are crazy people out there listening. I was pleased to hear a speck of civility returning to Washington as the peers of the Congresswoman finally listened to themselves and realized that someone must take the first steps to return our discourse to the level of mutual respect that our Constitution encourages. Even as they read the Constitution on the floor of the House (Congresswomen Giffords read the First Amendment), some of them were only still taking it to heart, even if they were the ones encouraging its reading.
Let us pray for the families of all the victims, and let us pray for those who have so far to go to recover. Let us also pray for ourselves that we may realize that we have to take responsibility for our words and the effect they have on others.
There are crazy people out there, and sometimes, they listen to us.
It’s all just my opinion.