Editor’s column: Let’s start with sympathy for the victims
When big news stories break, I turn to Twitter. It’s the fastest way to get information, some of it from the scene of an incident.
On Black Friday, Twitter enabled me to keep tabs on the Colorado Springs shooting from Detroit while communicating with the PI newsroom. Twitter had first word that the suspected shooter had been detained, just as it had first word last week that police had caught up to the San Bernardino terrorists.
Being unfiltered, social media also captures a hideous manifestation of our political polarization: People are almost cheering that a mass shooter will reinforce their view on an issue. This happens on Twitter, on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, in comments on the Post Independent Facebook page and on articles.
When we are so driven by our desire to be right that our impulse is to use a mass murder to make a point, we have become part of the extremism.
Words do matter and do influence people.
Here are a few examples of tweets about the shooting in Colorado Springs — while the standoff was still going on:
“Will Trump create a Christian database to track possible Christian extremists?”
“Sounds like a radical white male cover up if you ask me. I wanna hear from top white male leaders & see increased screenings.”
There were dozens of these types of posts — along with a few along these lines from abortion opponents:
“No ‘innocent victims’ at Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado springs shooting … except of course, the unborn babies.”
“It was a bank robbery gone bad.”
The last one fell into a subgroup of tweeters who desperately wanted the attack not to be aimed at Planned Parenthood so pro-lifers couldn’t be blamed.
Six children lost parents in the Colorado Springs attack. Surely all of us can agree that’s more important than pounding out 140 characters about how wrong the other side of a political debate might be.
From the San Bernardino shooting last week, here were a few social media posts:
“3 Middle Eastern men … (we’ll see if AP etc goes with this.) …”
“I wonder if they got funding from the same Saudis that @HillaryClinton gets a lot of her funding from.”
“California has an assault weapons ban but it didn’t stop terrorists from killing 14.”
Both liberals and conservatives are doing this.
It seems that these folks have become so politicized and so inured to unthinkable violence that they are skipping right past the horror of what is happening to shout, “I’m right” and make a dig at the other side.
We need to stanch this impulse.
Words matter and reflect how we treat each other. This is not civil discourse.
Having worked stories on too many tragedies, including a mass shooting at the University of Iowa in 1991, for my own health, I’ve learned to move my thoughts toward sympathy for victims and their families. I’ve found it helpful in times of horror to meditate on my blessings, the love in our families and the good in our communities and nation. It really is there, and abundant.
We should feel appreciation for the local police. Local authorities, with help from other agencies, saved lives in both Colorado Springs and San Bernardino. Extremely dangerous killers were stopped within hours, and the loss of life contained to the initial attack.
Officers in both cities performed with incredible bravery and effectiveness, but tweets about that were outnumbered by political assertions and sarcasm by at least 100 to 1.
These social media posts reflect how and why it’s become nearly impossible to have a civil conversation about guns or religious tolerance or abortion or a growing number of other polarized topics.
We are becoming rhetorically radicalized to the point that when fellow citizens are murdered, some among us see them not as humans with loved ones but as symbolic political points.
National Rifle Association board member and rock musician Ted Nugent in October blamed people for their own fate if they get shot in attacks by deranged nutbags.
“Meanwhile, those losers amongst us — spinelessly discarding self-evident truth, logic, common sense and pure human instinct — continue to fall for the big lie of political correctness, and get cut down by murderous maniacs like blind sheep to slaughter,” he wrote in his essay “The answer: Get a damn handgun.”
I sort of like Ted’s music — I liked much of his early stuff a lot when I was in college — but I’m one of his losers.
My personal experiences with guns mesh with those crazy statistics that say more guns don’t make us safer.
The thing is, we shouldn’t hate each other over it.
In a pluralistic society — which we are and from which we derive much of our strength — we should be able to discuss issues and make reasonable compromises.
After nearly a generation of increasingly polarized talk radio, cable TV and political rhetoric, our words are becoming like bullets.
Compassion is in the crosshairs.
Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent.
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