On Saturday a man opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon at a political gathering in Tucson, Arizona. He killed six people (including a 9-year-old girl, three women in their 70s, and a federal judge) and wounded more than a dozen others (including Gabby Giffords, the Democratic Congresswoman for that district).
The tragedy has sparked a lot of debate about the connection between virulent and violent rhetoric, which unfortunately has become a mainstay of American politics these days, and the shootings.
I think it’s too simplistic — and premature — to say that the rhetoric, as ugly and mean-spirited as it has been, is the cause of the massacre. But I think those who say such rhetoric had no connection to the killer’s actions are being disingenuous.
Words — spoken words, specifically – have power. That’s why we use them. And words have consequences. We want them to.
The purpose of a speech is to change the way people think and feel and act. That’s why we give speeches: we want what we say to have an effect. The question we have to ask ourselves is not “do our words affect what other people do?”, but “what do we hope people will do as a result of listening to the words we speak?”
The photo of “Grief” is courtesy of Ann Gav at Flickr.com.