In his Gabrielle Giffords shooting memorial remarks in Tucson, by my count, President Obama allocated more than 1300 of 2500 words to talking about the people involved–the injured, deceased, and heroes. The remaining 1200 words went toward making the Tucson address something rare for Obama: a positive, non-ideological speech.
Obama addressed the eruption of vitriol from the left in reaction to the Giffords incident.
You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.
For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.
So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.
But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?
So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.
I heard the words, but suspected nefarious motivation. Then I reconsidered. I imagined the same words coming from someone else. My different reaction told me that I had touched my own bias. When my reaction then softened, the bias subsided.
My praise for President Obama does not mean that I have succumbed to the liberal narrative, the silly nonstop drooling over his messianic eloquence. I am merely saying that in this case, Obama did well.
Obama also did well in appointing William Daley, a centrist and economic libertarian, to be his new Chief of Staff.
Americans now have a choice: see glimmers of true hope… or not.
From the hideous Tucson incident has emerged the best indication so far that Barack Obama may at least be thinking about changing his über-partisan posturing.
I remain leery, but feel a bit more optimism in my soul.
Perhaps we can move forward with eyes wide open, but more cheer in our hearts. We can retain our healthy skepticism, but acknowledge progress when progress is what we see.