“When you put a match to a tree, the forest will catch fire” is what my grandpa would say when folks were “trash talking.”
We teach our children that words are powerful and can hurt others. We preach to little people to think before they speak and to consider the feelings of others. Meanwhile, the adults around them are throwing tantrums. We are having our way, speaking our minds, drawing crosshairs on elected leaders and threatening each other across party lines, in our communities and workplaces, even our church bodies.
America is doing more “trash talking” than ever before. So why are we so surprised that we have an elected leader and several others, including a little girl, gunned down in the street? So what if the shooter, Jared Loughner, is “deeply disturbed”—does that absolve the rest of us from our responsibility to take a step back and examine the tone in which we speak to one another and consider whether it’s good and right and constructive?
Is it okay to just keep trash talking as long as I don’t shoot you?
Whatever your politics, I hope you can agree with our President on what he said Wednesday at the memorial service: “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.”