Let us begin here: In the long, ugly history of American assassinations, the perpetrators themselves have always been mentally unstable. John Wilkes Booth was a crazed narcissist. Lee Harvey Oswald and Leon Czolgosz were odd, paranoid loners. Squeaky Fromme? John Hinckley, Jr? I wouldn't want to try testifying to the "sanity" of any of these people. But in every case, other voices lay behind their actions. Each of their targets was defined as "un-American" and "destructive to freedom" and part of governments designed to hurt ordinary Americans. So, in each twisted mind, societal justification for their actions could be constructed.
And behind those other voices lay thousands, maybe millions, of Americans willing to allow that rhetoric to go forward, or even voting for those speaking with hate - or at least - via votes for legislators - voting to keep those speakers of hate in power.
And behind that lies the denial. "I didn't mean it that way." "I didn't vote for Newt Gingrich, just my local Republican congressman." "I was just making a point, I can't be responsible for crazy people."
At some point, we all need to point to ourselves and take responsibility. Yes, those who found themselves having to scrub, explain, or deny this weekend need to act most quickly - but, of course, they won't. They won't even begin to consider taking responsibility. So those of us who were, as my Ma used to say, "raised better," need to act.
Because when assassin Loughner urges people, in a YouTube Video, to "read the United States of America's Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws."He is directly channeling not any personal demon, but Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner. And let me extend the responsibility a big step further out. If you - any of us - voted for a Republican congressperson this past November, or did not vote because we were "mad" at Barack Obama (however legitimately), you - us, we - are responsible for John Boehner being in a position of power.
labelling - effectively - those who are not anti-immigrant as "pro-criminal." Here's Lamar Alexander promising, four days ago, "guaranteed retribution" to those who might require filibustering Senators to actually filibuster. Nice talk boys. Of course, if you voted for a Republican Senator, any Republican Senator - even sweet Olympia Snowe of Maine, you are responsible for making Kyle and Alexander powerful.
I'm not saying you are guilty. That's a different level, but in basic human terms you are responsible.
But I'm not immune from this criticism. I get hot. I say things. Inappropriate things. I belittle people. I'm responsible as well.
"We live as we were reminded yesterday in a dangerous, hair-trigger time, where tempers always seem near the boiling point and patience seems a lost trait.OK. so what?
"Democracy's arguments have never been pretty, but technology has changed the American dialogue.
"Because we can now know of problems instantly, we expect answers immediately. And when we don't get them, we let everyone know in no uncertain terms.
"We scream and shout - hurl charges without proof. Those on the other side of the argument become not opponents but enemies.
"Dangerous, inflammatory words are used with no thought of consequence. All's fair if it makes the point. Worse, some make great profit just fanning the flames.
"Which wouldn't amount to much if the words reached only the sane and the rational, but the new technology insures a larger audience. Those with sick and twisted minds hear us, too, and are sometimes inflamed by what the rest of us often discard as hollow and silly rhetoric.
"And so violence becomes part of the argument.
"In an eloquent statement, the new Republican House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday's "attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. "
"But it is much more - it is an attack on each of us and our way of life.
"If elected officials cannot meet with those who have elected them without fear of being shot, if the rest of us allow such a situation to exist, then we are no longer the America that those who came before us fought and died to protect and defend.
"We must change the atmosphere in which this happened, and we can begin by remembering that words have consequences.
"Like all powerful things, they must be used carefully.
"More and more, we seem to have forgotten that."- Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation
Well, in education we have a special responsibility. We have a special responsibility to responsibility.
On the same sad Sunday as we deal with the aftermath of the events in Tucson I watched this story on CBS Sunday Morning. A story which contains this exchange re: a Middle School principal, a bullying student, and that student's mother:
"But McDermott says Stephanie is still "a work in progress."We can bemoan this mother. And it is true that there's some kind of sickness there. But it is a sickness exploited by the Middle School system which remains in place. I cringed watching the little kids thrown into the horrible, completely inappropriate, bullying encouraging environment that are the corridors and classroom spaces of the school in the story. And while a "healthier" child, or a "better" mother might deal with this differently, we simply cannot count on everyone being "healthy" or "better." Certainly not in a nation with no reasonable health care system, no reasonable mental health care system, and no actual societal support for parenting.
McDermott says Stephanie's behavior has not improved, in part because she still doesn't seem to grasp what the problem is.
"I'm not sure yet that she wants to change who she is," he said.
Smith asked her, "How does it make you feel to know that parents are so worried about their kids, what you're doing to their kids, that they called the school to complain?"
"I don't find it right because I don't threaten kids that bad," Stephanie said.
"That bad? If kids are scared of you … come on, this is the first time you're hearing that kids are scared of you?"
"Uh huh," she said. "'Cause they're always like, 'I'm not scared of you.'"
"But what are you saying to kids that they would turn around and say 'I'm not scared of you'?" Smith asked.
"Like, 'I'm gonna beat you up.' Like when I say that to them, they'll be like, 'I'm not scared of you.'"
"Maybe they're not telling the truth," said Smith. "Here's the thing: If you call people names, if you threaten to beat them up, doesn't that make you a bully?"
"Yeah," she said.
But Stephanie's mom, Sue, isn't so sure.
"Stephanie, you know, really isn't that bully that people label her as," she told Smith.
"What do you think she is?" she asked.
"Oh my gosh, I don't know . . . A sassy, sassy smartass little girl, you know?" Sue laughed.
"I get the sense that there's a little piece of you that's kind of proud of her."
"Exactly," said Sue. "You have to stand up for themselves, you know? In society, really, I don't think anybody would really pick on her."
So we have to be better. Instead of just counseling kids about bullying, this principal needs to make real changes, to rethink his middle school, to literally make his students responsible for their peers.
As we need to rethink all of our schools, so that we actually model respect for every human and differing lifestyles, beliefs, and behaviors. So that we actually model the ability to take on controversial and complex topics and discuss them in reasoned intellectual debate, and not hide them because "our community won't understand." So that we don't run from, yes, even allowing the President of the United States to speak to our students - no matter what we think of him, or "outlaw" programs we choose not to like.
We need to reconstruct our behavior in schools so that we admit our mistakes, apologize to students when we wrong them, seek their counsel on making them whole after we have hurt them. We need to flexible enough in both our belief systems and our professional actions so that they will see that there is a different way.
This is profoundly important. Profoundly. So let us take heart from a couple of examples. In New York this week new Governor Andrew Cuomo invited the leaders of the state legislature, including the Republican President of the State Senate, to speak - to speak politically and openly at his public first State-of-the-State Address. And in Utah a Civility and Community 2011 effort has been launched state-wide.
These are beginnings. But we, each of us, must do much more. Democracy, or even just "society," isn't easy. It is complex, messy, confusing. Those who hold onto hope for our future must demonstrate our commitment now.
- Ira Socol