"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

If you're anywhere near a newspaper, or a TV news report or the Internet, you know what happened yesterday in Arizona. A man opened fire at a supermarket in Tucson, where a congresswoman was meeting with her constituents. Six dead, about a dozen injured, including the congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.

Typing those words makes my fingers numb.

Being hunkered down in my home in southern California, I had never heard of Rep. Giffords before today. And now I may never forget her.

Apart from the details of the shooting, the shooter's possible motives and mental state, everyone is now lit up with talk about the "vitriolic political atmosphere" that has been growing on this country like mildew in my shower ever since we elected President Obama. Currently, I'm watching the array of fingers that are out and pointing, hoping that in time, some of the fingers might turn and face their owners.

I'm sure the gun shop who sold the gun will shrug and say, "He passed the tests. It's not our fault he used the gun to shoot a 9-year old girl."

The politicos who have used violent rhetoric to stir up their followers will say, "When I said we need to keep these people in our crosshairs, I never meant to hunt them down. I was just using the image to make a point."

Then everyone will agree that some people use guns safely and some people understand language correctly and no one can control these nutcases anyway, so why change things?

I'd like to suggest that we need to try. We need to step up to the plate, own our actions and our words and commit to making this country a safe place to be who you are and express yourself without fear of violence or reprisal. I'm saying this for all groups, all parties, everyone. It's time to get along.

So maybe it's time for people to say, "I'm sorry. Maybe I was misunderstood. Maybe we let someone slip through the cracks. Definitely, we should try harder." Perhaps the politicians who are using violent images in their speeches could offer us a couple of words that say, "I'm so sorry that this crazy person took my words literally. I'm going to change the way I say things from now on." And no, you can't stop unbalanced people from hanging around your group, but you can let them know they are not welcome if they bring a sword to the table; only olive branches are accepted. Stop feeding them the words that stoke their craziness.

It's a common fact that most people respond better to "I" statements than "you" statements. No one wants to hear, "You're wrong about x." Most people, in fact, will bristle and dig deeper in their side of the argument. But try saying, "That may be true, but I think this way about x." See how much better that is for everyone? You allow other people to have their beliefs while you express yours. The only thing you have to abandon is your desire to control someone else. Since we've already agreed that we have no control over crazy people, is it so hard to stop trying to control the rest of the population?

And perhaps gun purchases should also be dependent upon some proof of sanity. Just saying.


Sue Ellis-Palacio said...

Excellent point, and there, is Nothing Funny about it. It is Sad and True.
The Talking Heads stoke the fire of Hatred and then wonder how their house just burned down.
Good Job Gayle.

Gayle Carline said...

Thanks, Sue. I live my life with the glass half-full and a quip at the ready, but sometimes people make me want to scream, "What the *bleep* is wrong with you?"

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.