How We Speak To (and About) Each Other

During this past semester, I met with some students about a disagreement among some that resulted in language that troubled me. Not profanities – I’m a Brooklyn street kid and I’ve heard all sorts of “curse words” uttered in all sorts of situations (and used a few myself, now and then). Rather, I was troubled by language used by some that was deeply insulting and hurtful to others, that did not seem to recognize and respect the fact that we were all part of a community, albeit a diverse one. I tried in my conversations with students to make the point that we could (and should on some issues) disagree with each other, but that how we speak to each other matters.

This weekend was the tragic shooting of a congresswoman that resulted in six deaths – including one child – and seven people being wounded, including the congresswoman who suffered serious injuries. It turns out that the congresswoman, who was a supporter of health care reform, was targeted by Sarah Palin for that reason, and appeared on a map on the website of Palin’s political action committee and on Palin’s own Facebook page with the cross-hairs of a gun-sight sighted on Giffords’ district.

Is there a direct link between the website map and the shooting? Probably not. But there seems to me little question that the rising vitriolic rhetoric that has characterized out political debates as late is potentially very dangerous. I think Pax Christi was right in its statement yesterday that “[i]t is disingenuous and ignorant to suggest that hate-talk media and the hyperbolic use of violent imagery play no role in this rising wave of political violence.”

How we talk to and about each other matters. Whether we are talking about issues that arise in a law school or issues that arise in our larger American society, we will have vast disagreements. But we have to find some way to talk to each other that allows us to effectively hear each other and understand the source of our differences. And we have to find some way to talk about each other that does not involve demonizing those who disagree with us.

Despite our differences, we are members of one community – all brothers and sisters. As we pray for those who died or were injured this weekend, perhaps we could also pray for the ability to speak to each other with greater love, even as we voice our disagreements and disappointments with each other.


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