The last time the whole nation came together was immediately following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. This was also the day Christina Taylor Green was born. Christina is the 9 year old child who died on Saturday, January 8, 2011 in the tragedy that also took the lives of five others including Federal Judge John Roll and Congressional Aide Gabe van Zimmerman. In addition to praying for the recovery of the wounded victims, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, we can also hope that the days following Christina Green’s death do as much to bring the nation together as the days following her birth.
Tragedies bring great pain but they also offer opportunities for transformation. In addition to the natural tendency to unite people, tragedies also offer an opportunity for learning and seeing things in a new perspective. Despite our collective lack of understanding of the deeper motivations for this crime that involves a deeply disturbed individual, there is little doubt that there will be a great deal of emphasis placed on the tone and tenor of recent political discourse.
The fact that Sarah Palin made the decision to remove the map showing gun-sight cross-hairs across Arizona’s 8th congressional district and 19 other “targeted” congressional districts held by Democrats before the 2010 election – as well as the her “Don’t Retreat, Reload” tweet from her twitter stream – reflects tacit acknowledgement of a possible connection between rhetorical tone and the events of Saturday. The awareness of the negative consequences of aggressive disrespectful politics is increasing on both sides.
However, attempts to pin the blame on the other side are more than counter-productive. They are really nothing more than another example of the same political coarseness. Beyond seeking blame, there will be sincere attempts to seek new understandings of the causes of violence, and possible changes in policies (Arizona has made it legal to carry concealed firearms) and behaviors that lead to tragedy.
For all the finger wagging commentaries on the radio and television, real change rarely comes in the form of one side convincing the other side to change their opinions and behaviors. Change happens when circumstances change causing people to re-evaluate their beliefs. Circumstances changed this weekend.
As a society with deep passions and disagreements, the hope is that we can find ways to debate passionately, and even be angry and frustrated with one another at times yet be sufficiently peaceful and positive so as not to demonize the other side. The congressional leaders and hundreds of members of congress got together on a telephone call on Sunday where toning down the rhetoric was suggested. It is a start.