Beyond the Arizona Shooting: Personal Responsibility

By Doris Morris

I needed a way to express my feelings about the recent shooting involving our representative, Gabrielle Giffords, so began writing this reflection a few days ago.  I am open to comments.

One of the Good Guys

Gabby, as she is known to us, is not a personal friend but she has been our representative for 10 years, first in the Arizona state legislature and now in Congress.  I wanted first to give you my impression of who she is (for those of you who are not Tucsonans).  She’s a Democrat, but not one who is easy to classify.  She gives thoughtful answers to even the most rabid, rhetorical questions.   She once told a gun-control audience that she owns a gun and so do most of her family members.  In last fall’s election season, she refused to stoop in the level of her opponent, even when it threatened her chances of winning.  She is, in my opinion, truly “one of the good guys.”  You can read more about her on her web page:

An insight into her character and response to her opponents can be seen in this MSNBC interview after her office door was smashed because of her vote on the health care bill:

I will write the rest of this from my own perspective on the left but I plan to send it to friends I have who feel differently.  So if you are one of those, feel free to switch the following examples to fit your own situation.

Incivility – What’s Our Part?

What caused this shooting?  We all want an answer, someone or something to blame that is larger than just an unbalanced young adult.  Maybe there is no other “something.”  However, I do believe that this event gives us an opportunity for reflection on the atmosphere in our country.  The incivility and harsh rhetoric in our country and particularly in our state do nothing to solve the tremendous challenges that face us.  And I do not believe that will change until we all take responsibility for it.

But that does not mean saying “Let’s get Fox News (or whatever your favorite object of disdain is) off the air.”  I believe it means owning our own part in the uncivil conversation.

We on the left like to think that we do not use violent and hateful images very often, but we are not blameless.  We treat those with whom we disagree with disdain.  We belittle their intelligence.  We ridicule their faith. We call them greedy and uncaring.  We rarely listen honestly and openly to what they have to say.  Ask yourself when the last time was that you asked a right-leaning person what they thought and listened carefully for the truth in their answer.

My Dad was one of those right-leaning persons.  Politics was often a hot-button issue with us, but sometimes we were able to actually listen to each other.  My perspective was broadened by those times.  I miss being able to talk about this with him.

It takes courage to put aside our own need to be right.  It’s often very difficult to listen openly to someone whose views you consider to be absolutely wrong.  But the rewards for us personally, for our community, and for our country, can be great.

Civility is Neither Left Nor Right

I want to tell a story.  For years Scott and I (and many others) have worked to make the United Methodist Church more open to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.   There are those who feel, as the official church doctrine states, that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  I have had a chance to participate with them in thoughtful dialogue several times and have come to know some people as more than just their views on this issue, as they have come to know me.  A few years ago I attended a luncheon of a conservative group where a nationally known speaker talked on and on about “we’re doing a good job of running the liberals out of our church.”  It was difficult not to walk out.  Afterwards, a woman leader of the group, whom I had come to know, came up to me and said, “I saw you come in and I kept thinking about you during the talk.  I hoped you weren’t being too hurt by what he said and I’m sorry if you were.”

I have carried those words with me ever since.  I have tried to hear my words as they might be heard by my opponent.  It’s pretty uncomfortable sometimes because the words are often out of my mouth before I think.

You may have heard Tucsonans interviewed who talked about Tucson as a having a small town feel.  It does, and we’ve been brought together by this tragedy.  We have also felt the prayers and good wishes of our friends across the country.  Thank you for reaching out.

So as we mourn the loss of those who died and pray for those who were injured, who witnessed the tragedy, and their families, perhaps we can find a way to maintain this feeling of togetherness.

Questioning and Listening

Perhaps, the next time we hear something that inflames us, instead of asking our like-minded friends “How can “they” think like that?”, we find someone who thinks that way and ask them “Why do you think that?”  And we ask it in a tone that says we really want to know the answer.

I know that’s a challenge.  It’s a challenge to find someone—most of us congregate with like-minded people.  It’s a challenge to let down our guard.  It’s a challenge to reconsider our deeply held beliefs.  I’ve done it rarely, but when I have, I have always been better for it.

I am pledging now to find at least one time in the next month to have this kind of conversation.  And I am asking you to do the same.  Just 30 minutes in the next 30 days.

I want to close with a Bible reflection I once read.  I believe it is applicable whether you are Christian or not.  Jesus said “Blessed are the peace-makers.”  He did not say “Blessed are the peaceful” or “Blessed are the peace-loving.”  Peace-making is rarely easy work, but I believe we will indeed be blessed in our efforts.  Φ

Doris Morris lives in Tucson and is a long-time activist on behalf of peace and justice issues.

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