Within hours of the tragic shootings in Arizona this past weekend many on the left, both politicians and pundits, suggested forcefully that perhaps it is time to take a step back and recognize that our words have consequences. They implied that the fiery rhetoric that passes for political discourse incites some who may be unbalanced and may lead to acts of violence.
Of course they mostly refer to the cross-hairs of Sarah Palin, Sharon Angel's Second Amendment Remedy and other statements made by some on the right. Of course politicians and pundits on the right, mostly through Fox News, protest that it is not only unfair to blame the actions of one obviously deranged man on words spoken by a politician, but that it is shameless to try to make political hay on the back of this tragic event.
What is important to recognize is that both sides are correct. We must pause to give full consideration to the words we use to describe our political opponents and be mindful of the fact that those with whom we disagree are not our enemies.
Our words do have consequences, especially the words spoken by leaders in the political arena. Pundits and talk show hosts, both on TV and radio, would do well to remember that with great freedom comes great responsibility.
It is equally important to dismiss out of hand any suggestion that this individual, who was clearly exhibiting the disorganized thought and prodromal-personality changes typically associated with the onset of schizophrenia, was somehow motivated by rational and coherent thoughts. Palin is no more responsible for this than I am.
So let us not point fingers. We have met the enemy and it is us. Many of us, me included, have used harsh words to describe those with whom we disagree politically.
We have often chosen the comfort provided in hearing opinions that match our own and have lost the ability to disagree without being disagreeable. We have chosen to get our information from either MSNBC or Fox News, and can't seem to tell the difference between news and opinion.
We often blame our elected leaders for being intensely partisan or refusing to work together to solve problems. How easily we remove ourselves from responsibility. If we want the tenor of our political discourse to change, we must all act more responsibly.
We must, as Gandhi suggested, "be the change we seek in the world" and remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
William S. Maloney of West Seneca is a licensed psychotherapist who has been working for the New York State Office of Mental Health for the past 10 years.