Words Matter. It’s time to dial down the political life or death rhetoric.

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June 15, 2017 by gregrabidoux2013

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scalise shooting

US Congressman Steve Scalise being transported to a hospital after being shot by a “disgusted” and “enraged” James Hodgkins.

 

It’s been building to yesterday’s horrific shooting now for some time.

As US Congressmen Steve Scalise (R-LA) continues to be in critical condition battling for his life and his colleague Roger Williams (R-IL) recovers from his wounds as well as at least 4 legislative aides and one special agent, we are left as usual with more questions than answers.

The media has predictably focused on the cowardly shooter, James Hodgkins, a 66 year old disgruntled Bernie Sanders political volunteer who was outspoken in his “disgust” and hatred towards President Trump and GOP members. I already know more than I ever wanted to know about this murderer. Thankfully, the US Capitol police shot him before even more bloodshed occurred. Sources indicate though that this killer was able to spray at least 75 bullets before being subdued and the fact others at the baseball field where the shooting took place also weren’t wounded or killed is in itself a minor miracle.

Questions like why wasn’t anyone in the Congressional entourage armed? or where was the security to protect these members of Congress?, loom large. In today’s hyper violent and terrorist filled and inspired world didn’t anyone stop to think that these unarmed people in broad daylight on an open baseball filed in a public park in Virginia might be sitting ducks for someone with violent malice in his heart like this Hodgkins fellow?

Valid questions all.

But I want to focus on something else. Something that impacts the even bigger picture of the state of our society today. As I noted at the outset of today’s blog, words do matter. Tremendously and measurably.

And it’s time, way past time actually, for everyone, but especially those of us in our society who command a public platform to realize that words matter. And to pause, take a deep breath and dial down the extremist political, hateful and violent rhetoric . Way down.

Why?

Simple really. It’s not just that the words, the phrases, the life metaphors we choose that matter in some vague or abstract way. No. The words we choose actually have a profound biochemical effect on our mood, our thinking, our bodies, our actions.

Certain words produce what physiologists tell us are “biochemical markers” in our bodies and those with whom we communicate. Such words and phrases can produce emotionally positive or negative effects. In the extreme they can literally cause us to block or ignore societal or civil filters and move us rapidly to act without any impulse control.

In short, words matter so much they can mean the difference between life and death.

Skeptical?

Next time you are upset with someone note the difference between calling them a “liar” and simply choosing to say they are “mistaken.” Both on your own mood and that of the person with whom you are communicating. Next time life throws you a “bump in the road” go ahead and describe yourself as “furious” or “outraged” then try describing yourself as a “bit peeved.” See if your body notices the differing commands on how to respond and feel. And even act.

Why so much about words and metaphors?

Because the world is a violent place. And when our leaders “up the ante” or “raise the political stakes” of whose public policy should be preferred in our political arena by choosing extreme metaphors like saying “there should be blood in the streets” or “resist until death” or casually tossing F-bombs in their public speeches or beheading the president in a realistic manner for the cameras or filming a “mock killing” in a music video or more recently staging a Broadway play which features a murder of our president it sends a very powerful and perilous message:

Go ahead it says, give in to and act upon your deepest rage, your hatred, your frustrations. This type of extremist political rhetoric assures us that it’s okay, these “people” aren’t really “people.” They are not real, they are fascists and Nazis and we “are at war.” And “they” must be stopped at “all costs” and “by any means necessary.”

And then what follows in a highly charged, divisive, poisonous, highly armed  political climate becomes inevitable doesn’t it?

It’s wrong when people abuse free speech by engaging in a mock lynching of our president as some did during President Obama’s tenure and it’s no less wrong to engage in similar speech and action during President Trump’s tenure.

Protesting is a constitutionally protected act. But engaging in actions advocated by leaders like Ms. Felarca’s BAM (By Any Means Necessary) like imposing physical beatings on those they disagree with or setting fire to buildings or destroying property isn’t conducive to a democratic society. It doesn’t reinforce our most sacred values it frays at them until they tear. And it crosses the line from constitutionally protected speech and right to assemble and into unprotected and illegal violence. Pure and simple.

<> on March 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

Protected speech. Just not productive?

It’s hard isn’t it to disagree with someone or some other party about politics and policy without “turning up the heat” of your own political rhetoric? Without getting “outraged” and “furious?”

But the future of our society, our collective security may very well depend on doing just the opposite of what far too many of our political leaders, our media pundits and our celebrities have been calling for recently in their own overheated and hateful rhetoric.

Today as his family prays for his recovery, US Congressman Steve Scalise, the US House Majority Whip, a husband and a father to his children was shot because in large part James Hodgkins couldn’t control his rage. Armed with a high powered rifle and motivated by his own political hatred, and in part, no doubt fueled by overheated and needlessly dangerous rhetoric he apparently saw no other outlet to resolve his frustration, his vile hatred than by shooting at “symbols” at “Nazis” at “Fascists” as they played that most American of pastimes on a beautiful park in Virginia.

Don’t get me wrong here. Celebrities on the left like Kathy Griffin or Alec Baldwin who defended her faux beheading of the president by saying “F%%% them all…they get what they deserve” or CNN host Iranian-American Reza Aslan who tweeted that the president was a “piece of Shi%” or Antifascists who drove spikes into police horses in NYC after chanting “burn down the White House” or actress Lea DeLaria who threatened to “take out every God d*** Republican with a baseball bat” or HBO producer David Simon who urged supporters to “pick up a brick if Trump fires Mueller” actor Mickey Rourke who threatened to “bust Trump up with a baseball bat” or even US Senator Gillibrand who in a public speech said “F***k the president did not pull the trigger yesterday. They did not ambush innocent, unarmed men and women on a baseball practice field in a public park in Virginia.

But to pretend that they along with those on the far right who spew violent, overheated political rhetoric do not foster and fan the flames of hatred and rage amongst those in our society least able to control themselves from acting upon such rage is profoundly and dangerously naïve.

And we all pay the price for such rhetorical recklessness.

Yesterday it was Steve Scalise and his colleagues and aides who paid the price.

Who will it be today?

It’s time to dial down the rhetoric.

Because if everything truly causes you outrage then in reality nothing does.

Try being a “little peeved” for a change.

The future of our rapidly deteriorating civil society may just depend on it.

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18 thoughts on “Words Matter. It’s time to dial down the political life or death rhetoric.

  1. Barry T says:

    And the left has the nerve to call us “deploreables”-the blood of shootings like yesterday is on their hands. Peace, love and tolerance until they lose an election. Hypocritical left wing nutjobs.

  2. Beth Y says:

    see blame on all sides but I have to admit the hatred and rhetoric coming from the unhinged left is downright scary. It’s not free speech, it’s criminal speech.

  3. Angela says:

    I needed to read this more than ever, and not because of political reasons. My sister and I get into disagreements often and there have been times on both sides that regrettable things were said – bottom line the words hurt. Oddly, it’s comforting to read someone else’s perspective on the weight of words because someone out there understands. I believe a lot of people understand the weight of words but how often do we talk about this subject. As a kid I remember talks from my dad, but as adults who’s going to look at us and say, “Hey. Instead of the harsh word ‘hate’, why not say dislike?” Or something of the manner.

    I think as we get older we all get stuck in our ways and we use our beliefs and age to express anything and everything, no matter the cost. We need more metacognitive thinking to slow us down and to truly choose the appropriate words that show chivalry. I’m definitely guilty of being stubborn and speaking before thinking, but I’m happy that I can at least recognize these faults.

    Between my relationship with my sister and watching the political climate, I’ve had some of the same thoughts as this post. When will the bipartisanship renew for all of us and when can we begin to rebuild communications? Hopefully soon.

    • Very well said Angela. It always has struck me that with our language, there are over 500,000 words at our disposal but our habitual usage is so very limited for many. And since words define our experience many have limited experiences due to an impoverished vocabulary. I think of certain celebrities, entertainers or comics who rely so much on just a few words often dominated by the F-bomb that those words become their only and very limited emotions. No wonder some people always are outraged maybe their words are giving them no other options..

  4. Clint Backstrom says:

    I like your stance on this and I myself have said the exact same thing to friends and colleagues a lot. I lean more to the fiscally conservative socially liberal side of things and I try to have many conversations with friends that just crumble into me being called names along with my sanity and intelligence being called into question. My question at that point is always why cant we just talk about our views and be ok that we disagree. Why do I have to be a “f#@king idiot” because I thing another way. Subsequently, i presumed to not be steadfast in my opinion because I will not return the same rhetoric to them. The world is hung on buzz words and sensationalism. If you’re not poking the bear then don’t even try to talk with him it seems. You cannot preach hate in violence in your rhetoric and then wonder what happens when it materializes on your doorstep.

  5. Jonathan Klusmeyer says:

    Your post is a voice of reason. It is a rare beacon of light on a cloudy winter day. We have truly dehumanized those who we do not agree with. Simply because we do not agree with someone’s position, suddenly they are less intelligent and less worthy of our time. I have always enjoyed a good political debate in the past, yet recently I have found myself withdrawing from the subject. Words do have meaning, as Robin Williams character in Dead Poets Society reminds us, “Avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys-to woo women- and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.” We live in a world of exaggeration, where President Trump is Hitler reincarnated, and Bernie Sanders is working towards recreating a Stalinist Russia here in the USA. Most recently, we see exaggeration concerning the House and Senate healthcare bills. In this arena, leaders such as Sanders and Warren are making outrageous claims about the impact of the bill. Sanders states that the bill will literally kill thousands of people. Meanwhile, Warren is stating that the bill is “blood money” and tax cuts are being paid for with American lives. If you buy into these statements by Democratic leaders, it only makes since that you will see yourself AT WAR with Republicans…after all, they are trying to kill you and everyone you know. It’s time to tone down the rhetoric, if we don’t there is no further escalation besides these actions we have been experiencing. Why are college kids shutting down free speech on campus? Why are protesters paid to start fights and hurt fellow Americans at political rallies? Why are we trying to kill our ELECTED representatives? The answer is because they are no longer human to many individuals who have bought into the message that the media and national leaders are selling them.

    • Jonathan, wise words and you are correct-when you start using life or death metaphors and extreme rhetoric it doesn’t leave much space for collaboration or conciliation or mutual interests, because “they” are evil, this is war and blood must be shed. Really? Your job as a representative in a democratic society is to propose policy and make laws, vote, build coalitions and try and win your seat. Legally and peacefully. If what you really want is a true revolution well that is a very different path indeed. It’s sort of what life metaphor you choose for yourself-Is life a dance> Is it a game? Is it an adventure? Or is it war? And you must smash through bricks and walls everyday? Sure makes a difference in tension levels just writing the 2 versions.

  6. Bettina Durant says:

    Great point! “But to pretend that they along with those on the far right who spew violent, overheated political rhetoric do not foster and fan the flames of hatred and rage amongst those in our society least able to control themselves from acting upon such rage is profoundly and dangerously naïve.

    And we all pay the price for such rhetorical recklessness.”

    And, now Johnny Depp joins the loose lips sinks ships/fans the flames” club.
    If only there could be an end to “rhetorical recklessness”… I don’t think it is needed to prove a point.

  7. Trese Flowers says:

    Great post! Words do in fact have power. The power to either incite a group into action or to de-escalate a situation. Those in leadership roles and access to public platforms must recognize that its not “WHAT” one says, but “HOW” things are said that can serve as the catalyst to evoke action. Unfortunately, more often than not lately, those actions are negative and in the worse case scenarios, violent. It is necessary, mandatory even, that leaders end their reckless rhetorical speech and words and begin being more thoughtful about which words they use and how they use them. Certainly, if they agree on nothing else, they can all agree that enough blood has been shed.

    • Sharon Pyles says:

      Hi Trese,

      You are so right. How things are framed is vital. A simple message for everyone is one that I use at home with the kids – use the word “I” instead of “You”. This is a great example of how words have power. When we are discussing our emotions or feelings – we can keep from having an argument when we discuss how “I feel” versus what “you made” me do. By using the word “you” it makes it look like we are pointing the blame on someone else, and when you feel that you are being blamed for something – it’s human nature to become defensive. This defensiveness can devolve into an argument. However, by using the word “I”, we are able to keep the communication channels open and most of the time resolve the issue.

      How different things would be if people paid attention to the way words make us feel.

      Thanks for your comments,
      Sharon

  8. Raymond L Pheris says:

    When not only misinformed celebrities with a platform spew hate, but the supposed leaders of our country do as well, it should be expected that the populace lets that hate take hold in their hearts, pushing them to take action. There were people who said hateful, misguided things about President Obama, but they were routinely criticized and called rednecks or racists. The negativity towards President Trump seems to be tenfold in comparison, and those critics are lauded as patriots and champions of democracy for speaking their opinions, even when the tone is just as salacious if not more so. The beauty of democracy is that it works for the people. If they population does not want President Trump in power, they can change it in 2020. In the meantime they should try working with his administration as opposed to being an obstacle so that some good can be achieved over the next 3 years.

  9. Tayo Sowemimo says:

    Regardless of what led James Hodgkins to go on a despicable shooting spree resulting in the injury of US Congressman Steve Scalise and others, should be condemned in the strongest terms, such heinous act is simply unacceptable. The issue of dialing back heated political rhetoric is applicable on both sides of the political spectrum. The president needs to lead the way on this issue; words do matter, and those on the left should accept Donald Trump was duly elected President of the United States.

  10. Wes Milam says:

    Absolutely correct!! Everybody seems to be so angry and revolutionary all of a sudden. Spewing this vitriol does nothing but strengthen the divide among us. Is there a middle ground anymore? You are required to be on one side or the other. And it seems the left are worse about it than the right was when Obama was elected! All of the negativity is non-productive. Rather than yelling about it on social media, perhaps calmly do something about it. I wonder how many of those who yell the loudest actually voted?

  11. Curtis Jones III says:

    I totally agree that words have power and that they can be as dangerous or if not more dangerous than bullets. Words have the ability to cause devastation, tragedy, outcry and so forth. However, when you attempt to create a culture of unapologetic leadership and unfiltered speech as a means of expressing “Freedom of Speech” you have to be open to the consequences that may follow. Many in American leadership (especially the POTUS) lead unfiltered, which is not wise for the lives that may be directly linked to them. As the old saying goes, “what’s good enough for the goose is good enough for the gander”. It is sad that the situation happened and lives were negatively affected by a disgruntled citizen, however, it is best to be mindful that words carry power and if we want to have a civil and humane environment, it starts from the top,not from the bottom.

  12. Joe Pennino says:

    Words certainly do have power and consequences. I have seen this first hand when a group of people at work start complaining at how bad pay is, or how busy they are, etc. This negative talk, this whining causes people to actually feel more angry and depressed and perpetuates the issue. Astonishingly enough, most of them start to actually believe what they are saying. The same is true in politics or any other arena. Just because you have a Constitutional right to say something or act a certain way doesn’t mean you should. Martin Luther King used words to inspire a generation for positive change, and Hitler used them for darker purposes. It should not be socially acceptable or considered “brave” for people to spew hateful nonsense. This kind of speech is rarely productive and often damaging. People who engage in this type of action need to realize that real change comes through thoughtful action, healthy debate, and diplomacy.

  13. Sarah Matta says:

    I think it is sad that so many people cannot even talk about their beliefs or opinions because the discussions get too heated. I know people always say religion and politics are something people should never talk about, but why can’t adults talk about things like that? Why do differences of opinions cause so much violence? This was a very eye-opening post.
    I liked the comment that Joe made about MLK vs. Hilter and how damaging it is for people to be yelling out hateful words.

  14. Daniel T says:

    I agree, we must dial back the rhetoric. One of the root causes is that we don’t respect people enough to give them the benefit of the doubt that they might just be wrong when they disagree with us. Just because we have a fundamental disagreement on policy, politics, or religion doesn’t mean that either one of us has evil intentions or is out to destroy our country necessarily.

    We’ve got to give people the right to be wrong, the right to disagree with us without being evil. Of course, I may be dreaming since we’ve engaged in over-heated political rhetoric since the days of the Founding Fathers. Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel because of political attacks on the character of Arron Burr and the attacks on John Adams were as bad. The attacks on Hamilton and Jefferson at least had the virtue of truth.

    Part of the problem is that people don’t really understand their positions in any depth. Rush Limbaugh is a perfect example. He knows exactly what he believes and generally I agree with his final policy conclusion, but he doesn’t understand the details and reasoning of why a principled conservative would reach the same position. He doesn’t have a depth of understanding of the issues and principles involved, he supports a knee-jerk position and insults people on the other side.

    People on both the right and left follow that model. They don’t have conversations in an effort to understand the other side but to convince them that they are wrong. When they fail it degenerates quickly to insults.

    With principled people with an understanding of the issues on both sides, it often boils down to a difference of values. If we’re going to make progress as a nation, we need to show respect for other people and their ideas as long as they are honest and well reasoned, even if or maybe especially if they are wrong.

  15. Sergio B says:

    Interesting Point!

    This is a magnanimous world we cohabit today. I hate to sound equivocating but what separates and unites is words. Speech is only bestowed upon one creature on this tillitaing earth. No other creature can speak volubly, but Human Beings, then turn words into forces belonging to right and wrong. We all have unexpressed thoughts running through the Mind diaphanously but what makes them audible is sound (words). Everything emits vibrations and that vibration transfers a sound particularly to the form which created the sound. I love this topic with an emotionless passion, as a child I use to always ruminate about words and how they were created and how they originated. That’s why I try to empower people to understand words and not to disparage words. Words are here for a reason giving direction as corrdinates do on a map. Once we edify ourselves on the Word than the WORD is GOD!

    Magnifying Topic!

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