Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Contrary to what some people believe, encouraging a toning down of dialogue to civil level in no way jeopardizes effective debate but may facilitate meaningful discourse.

Serious injuries, tragic deaths and psychological trauma occurring quite unexpectedly in Tucson, Arizona was the radio news to which I awoke one morning over a week ago. In the succeeding moments I listened to rapid up dating accounts of events culminating with my relief upon learning that the perpetrator had been caught almost immediately as he attempted to re-load his weapon. Primarily, I followed the news reports hoping those who still lived would survive with little or no residual effects though I understood the challenge of such an expectation for Arizona’s Congresswoman Gifford.

Soon news reporters, officials and others interviewed were speculating on an answer to the question that I was also thinking – WHY? Why had this atrocity happened? What was the motivation for such a heinous act? I welcomed the eventual reassurance there were no other related events like this happening elsewhere.

There seemed little doubt the Congresswoman shot at point blank range was the target which subsequent information has suggested to be true. More questions came to my mind. Was this deadly act triggered by some words she had expressed or action she had taken? What prompted this violence that had impacted so many innocent lives of variously aged individuals? Was this a protest against our government? Was it about politics? What was the thinking of the now-identified young college age former student arrested as the shooter?

Various news items began to reveal this young man’s own writings, also videos with accounts and reports of his words evidencing unusual, increasingly strange, even bizarre behavior. He is alleged by many to be mentally ill while some would suggest this is not so.

A lot of accusations have been and continue to be made about the causes of this horrific event and others in recent years. Some suggest significant adverse influencing factors for such a violent act can be attributed to various individuals engaged in inflammatory radio and TV broadcasting. Exacerbating their negativity are written media rages and Internet rants. Despicable violence-laden metaphors are thought to be incendiary from those who are, or aspire to be, leaders in our local to highest legislative government offices.

There are those I am convinced who use outrageous means to deliberately appeal to the baser instincts of humanity for the primary purpose of self-aggrandizement to elicit excessive monetary rewards. They do this by expressing extremist political views using half-truths, outright lies, bitter angry rhetorical language couched in innuendo espousing not-always-so-subtle hate and intolerance laced with vitriolic derogatory name-calling. Deliberate divisive polarization of our nation’s populace is fomented for selfish personal and ideological goals under the guise of patriotism. Anyone who holds different views or provides contradictory facts is smeared with false labels designed to destroy credibility.

I’ve long disliked labeling terms so loosely applied to individuals as being accurately descriptive partially because they’re often misused with definitions not uniformly understood so are misleading. People often have differing perspectives of the same label term and erroneously assume everyone has the same meaning interpretation. Most thinking individuals have a range of positions from the conservative to the liberal depending on the issue. Lock step of only one view on all issues most frequently is a position occupied by radical extremists on either end of a topics continuum. A result can be escalating high emotional energy being expended in arguments that may not even stem from a shared factual base.

Reason suggests use of such deliberate labeling terms and name-calling negativity can be emotionally arousing stimulation that can further distort a mentally unstable individual’s already convoluted thinking, possibly contributing to some destructive behavior. Responsible mature leaders recognize this potential and conduct themselves in society’s best interest by using reasoned words and actions.

Consideration must be given to the fact we humans seek logical rational explanations for what we may not understand as occurred with this shooting atrocity. We cannot discount the possibility the act’s reality may be more akin to chaos than the reason we seek. However, we would be remiss to ignore changing some behaviors that are potential causal factors when we can. Anyone intimating that debate is stifled by using civil discourse about pertinent issues is making a ludicrous irresponsible argument.

A promising suggestion I’ve heard in an effort to create a more civil union would be to eliminate the “us and them” seating in both Congressional houses. Instead of the political parties clustering in separate groups, Congresspersons could integrate. If necessary, their random assigned seating might facilitate their establishing relationships enabling them to better serve all their constituents in an atmosphere with more collegiality.

No doubt many more facts are yet to be revealed about this Arizona tragedy, but whether or not we will ever know all the factors influencing this shooter remains to be seen. Meanwhile, we mourn all those who died and are encouraged by the recovery of the injured. We especially are anxious that Arizona’s Congresswoman Gifford continue her medical progress, a hope our President eloquently and emotionally expressed in his recent speech to the nation.

A Candlelight Circle of Hope for Congresswoman Gifford who graduated from our local Claremont, California's Scripps College will be held tonight which you may read about on the site link.


  1. A very thoughtful and well reasoned post. I think it is one of the best I have read on this subject and I agree with all you said.

  2. What a beautiful post!!! I, too, would like to see our leaders and the media truly exercise civility. However, do you honestly believe Glen Beck and his ilk are going to stop the hate? Are the Tea Party and their queen going to stop?
    I rather doubt it but I'm taking a "wait and see" stance.

  3. Excellent analysis. Name-calling and other childish behavior probably never will be erased from politics, but why not try being ladies and gentlemen for a change? There can be no bad result from that.

  4. This is really a wonderful post JoAnn....and I couldn't agree more; but I'm taking a 'wait and see' stance too. I have doubts that some people can step up to the plate and stop all the hate they have in their hearts and be civil and even compassionate. I can't fathom for one minute how anyone could think spewing hate and violence at others is the right thing to do...ever.

  5. I too had long grown tired of the hurling of dogma and insults thrown mostly from the right, but also the all or nothing rhetoric and stance by both sides. While the shooter is probably seriously mentally deranged and ill, it has started a collective reflection about what is appropriate and civil. I hope that those of us who wish for a more civil discourse will stop listening to the wingnuts, thereby leaving them without the vaunted audience ratings that drive their rantings. If no one listens they will fade from the airwaves like a bad sitcom. I find it facinating how they are defending the value of their rhetoric, with the look of desparation "oh no, I will have no show if I cannot fan my extremism" We can only hope their fear comes true.

  6. I am actually nervous about the "mixed" seating of the congress for the State of the Union address. Who knows what mischief this might bring until it's too late to stop it? Better to have the parties separate so that the one side's intransigence is on full display.

  7. 'A promising suggestion I’ve heard in an effort to create a more civil union would be to eliminate the “us and them” seating in both Congressional houses.'

    XE/ME and I agree on quite a lot of things; but, we disagree on this. I Value her opinion, but I think that random seating and reassignment of seating each session of the Congress might go a long way toward fostering civility.

    It has been my experience that it is almost impossible to hate someone whom I know - the better I know someone the less likely I am to feel unkindly toward them. I think it is because I see their humanity more clearly as I learn more about them.

    In some of the classes that I teach, I specifically assign seating so as to break up the cliques, forcing the participants to become acquainted with others, mixing up the talents, mixing up the backgrounds, promoting new interactions.

    It is good to not have everyone in lock step. Wasn't it in the movie "Twelve Angry Men" that one hold-out eventually, through reason, swayed the other 11 members of a jury?
    Cop Car