In absolute horror I have watched the Arizona shooting media coverage over the last several days. I’m sure you have too. It appears that at least one person walked into a political “meet and greet” session outside a Tucson grocery store and just started shooting. Six people are dead, including a nine year old girl, and fourteen others are also injured, several critically.
Why? Why do these “not-so-uncommon” events continue to headline the news? The Pima County Sheriff in Arizona hinted at a possible reason for this atrocity: political mudslinging that has become vile, toxic, and destructive to human dignity with deleterious effects, particularly on those that are unstable.
Late yesterday afternoon I walked to our local Dollar General store that is located near a high school. As students were exiting the school I was a bit taken back by the appalling verbal insults that were being hurled at each other. Suddenly, just as she was passing me on the sidewalk, a young female ripped off her coat, threw it down, and lunged at a male student who was engaging in the verbal sparring with her. He jeered and laughed and continued to loudly evaluate her character and her family in a most destructive and disrespectful manner. Last week I happened upon an elementary school playground during recess. The adult supervisors either didn’t hear or didn’t care about what the young children were saying to each other – statements that were intended to deeply hurt another child because of a disagreement over a toy. A toy.
Have you attended a sporting event recently and listened to the comments of the crowd? Or have you waited in a “customer service” line to return a retail item? The conversations that take place between the employee and the disgruntled customer are usually not pretty. One of my older friends who doesn’t quite qualify for disability status is having a hard time making ends meet. She told me recently that she is considering a telemarketing job since she can sit down for that type of employment. Not saying a word I cringed and scrunched up my face when she shared this job possibility with me. She replied, “I know. I’m strong but I really don’t know if I can take all the verbal abuse that people would give me when I called them.”
I turned on the television last night and heard with fresh ears the verbal volleying that occurs between actors on many shows. It seems that the unspoken message is whoever can say the most hurtful, cutting remark – the quickest – is the better person. It is all about “one-upping” another person with the quickest, Sonic-slap comeback.
I don’t think it is just politicians that have become experts at hurling vile, insensitive, and hurtful comments at each other.
I am wondering if we have lost the art of respectful, social discourse and interaction with those that we live with here on the earth. In fact, flip to the old movie channel tonight for a stark contrast in social interaction. I know those old movies are just that – movies. However, they are a reflection of the culture of that time.
I heard a quote last week that has come to mind during the events of the last several days. The quote is: “Nothing is as strong as gentleness – and, nothing is as gentle as real strength” (St. Francis de Sales).
That reminds me of Jesus. I love the picture of Jesus calling little children to come to him. I picture him swooping them up in his arms, kissing their little faces and hugging them tightly. I also love the gentle way I picture Jesus with women – especially those that were outcasts of society. He called them “daughter”, he looked loving at them, he encouraged them, he helped them, he took up for them, he healed them. It touches me when I think about how he gently spoke to and cared for those that were so destitute and helpless. But Jesus was not a wimp. He knew how to get in someone’s business when he discovered that they were taking advantage of people for whom they should have demonstrated concern and gentleness.
Jesus showed us that there really is nothing as strong as gentleness. Proverbs 25:15 (ERV) says, “With patience, you can make anyone change their thinking, even a ruler. Gentle speech is very powerful.”
Vile, hateful language appears to be contagious and destructive these days. However, Jesus reminds us that gentle speech is profoundly powerful and ultimately more contagious.
Let’s spread the word.