Being There – Gabrielle Giffords and the Danger of Rhetoric

(this post is a reprint of today’s homily, Being There, on Grace Independent, you can listen to it at at 9am EST or download the podcast later)

Today, our prayers are with US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, as she struggles for recovery after having been shot in the head in Arizona. Our prayers go out for her safe healing, and for the families of the other six victims who were killed during that spree.

It is…beyond comprehension as to what would motivate a young man of 22 to take a weapon and seek to kill someone who was trying to model change and to help others. It is, beyond comprehension what would motivate anybody to think that we have the right to take any one’s life.

While the young man in question has been acknowledged to be a very disturbed person, the Sheriff in Tucson has also acknowledged that it is the culture of vitriol and hate that exists in his city that most likely took someone’s disturbed fantasy and pushed them over into the reality of making it happen.

The Sheriff emphasizes that it was not a question of left or right political sides expressing the hatred, but of both contributing equally to creating this kind of environment.

And he is right. It has become acceptable, no matter which side of the fence you are on, to express hate and walk that thin line of encouraging violence these days. When violence happens, there is a mad scramble to point fingers and yet a complete lack of recognition or willingness to take responsibility for one’s own words of hate and violence that have fed the soil in which these acts grow.

Every time we denounce something or someone, whether we are right or wrong, if we denounce them with words of force and no active plan of change then we are encouraging violence against them because we have assigned to one person a mythology of being responsible for whatever ills they represent to us. They become icons, figureheads and totems of an issue and people who are disturbed, people who are incapable of independent thinking will make a connection that to remove the person is to remove the problem.

One of the habits that Westerners have been in for a long time is the personification of things. We assign human qualities to objects and animals; we create symbolic people so that we can better grasp an issue rather then extend ourselves in an effort to understand the complexities involved.

It is how politicians are “swept” into office. It is not because of what they are saying about what they will do on issues but from having assigned to their person and personalities the change that we want to see. It is why so many people who voted for Obama are now personally disappointed in the man, they created a symbolic person in him that allowed them to forgo actually coming to understand how our government works and what the problems are with creating change.

As long as the person they have assigned the responsibility for the change is there, they believe, there is been no need for anyone to do more.

It is this willingness to be shown things in simple pictures and to accept it as a “good enough” explanation that has led to the rise of the commercialization of politics and the superficiality we accept as knowledge and thought in policy. Everything must be packaged and presented in as short a span as a TV commercial and people allow their emotions to be appealed to and from there, to make their decisions.

Reason, is not valued.

We have raised a nation that emphasizes critical thinking, which compares things, takes in what is said and then chooses to agree with one side or the other.

Independent thinking, the kind of thinking that includes the existing sides and then offers a chance for independent reasoning, investigation and creative thinking, which may find a choice that can be made that is not offered – is no longer valued because it takes too much time and effort and challenges the way things are. Independent thinking challenges our safety in knowing what to expect because it removes responsibility from our figureheads and returns it to us.

We have become a nation of people who repeat slogans. When challenged to discussion we insult, shout or fall back on sloganeering to overwhelm the voice of discussion because we no longer have the minds and thinking abilities to hold a discussion.

It is my fervent hope that this recent incident serves as a wake up call to our political system and shows that rhetoric, slogans and the creation of symbolic persons is a very dangerous thing.

It is my fervent hope that this wake up call will temper the hatred and vitriol in the coming election with messages guided by respect and responsibility.

But my hope is not high.

It is up to us, as a people, to reject these messages and to reject the sender as well. To reject all senders of messages that offer no solutions or whose solutions are dependent on the condemnation of persons.

Consider your life.

How much time to you spend in considering the opinions that you read?

What solutions to the world’s problems do you see, and where is that solution echoed?

How much of an understanding do you have of the way things work in government and politics, or is most of your understanding based in knowledge of what is wrong only?

We need realistic solutions to our problems. We need a country of people who choose to participate and hold their representatives to representing them without ever losing sight of the broad spectrum of beliefs and people that live here. We need a country of people who prizes respect and values differences in opinion because they are sources for discussion that may lead to a better choice.

We need people who are committed to meeting need and who eschew hatred and vitriol, slick packaging and slogans in favor of honest work and investigation into how to undo what we have permitted to be done for years.

In Christ’s Name,


c. 2011 Cassandra Tribe/Grace Independent All Rights Reserved.


About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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