Words are man’s first act of aggression, and it would be impossible to miss the mounting violence — both rhetorical and physical — in today’s political environment. We think we all need to take a step back, take a deep breath and stress civility, making extra efforts to help rather than hurt our fellow Americans.

In this combative atmosphere, it is not surprising that violent imagery is on the rise. For example, a new production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” put on by New York’s Public Theatre, turns Caesar into a Donald Trump look-alike and becomes the vicarious killing of the president. Add to this comedian Kathy Griffin posing for photos with a bloody likeness of the President’s severed head.

But the most egregious was the politicized deranged shooter who attacked a group of lawmakers in the D.C. area as they practiced for their annual charity congressional baseball Game. Five people were injured, with one, Majority Whip Steve Scalise, in critical condition. The shooter was quickly stopped, thanks to the Capitol Police and security detail assigned to Whip Scalise.

Wide photo of gallery and House of Representatives at the Capitol. 2 may 2017
The Hawaii House of Representatives in May. Bipartisan, emeritus leaders of the chamber are calling for greater civility. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

There appeared to be little question that the deranged gunman was motivated by political hatred. He previously made violent threats on Facebook and he was found carrying a “hit list” of congressmen’s names in his pocket at the time of his shooting rampage.

This horrible event demonstrates just how overheated our political rhetoric has become, and how little it may take to set off some disturbed individuals to commit violence. In America, no one should have their life threatened because of their political beliefs and their relationship with others shouldn’t be based on whether their political party wins or loses an election. That’s the way they do it in some Third World countries, not here.

Words Count

Since the advent of the Jerry Springer show and reality TV, the lowest common denominator of American culture has been on display and we have let our standards of civility sink to an all-time low. The internet has also contributed to the unbridling of our tongues in the public square. It appears that the “I can say anything I want to anybody” verbal barbarism and bullying of today allows anonymous and outrageous public statements that not only escape self-censorship, but the more controversial the better.

This new free speech movement in cyberspace and the impact of unbridled digital speech is very real and making a huge impact.  Just consider ISIS’s successful use of the internet for recruitment and training of thousands of jihadists. Also, consider a Massachusetts court that recently ruled that prolific texting led to the death of her boyfriend by persistently encouraging him to commit suicide. She was convicted of manslaughter.

We think we all need to take a step back, take a deep breath and stress civility, making extra efforts to help rather than hurt our fellow Americans.

Words count, and harsh words count the most. What we say and write, really makes a difference and leaders, especially elected officials in both parties, need to set the example. The freshmen Democrat and Republican members of Congress demonstrated this by signing a “Civility Pledge” just a few months ago, and congressional Democrats and Republicans displayed their shared humanity by huddling and praying on second base where Congressman Scalise was shot.

The bottom line is we need to stress more civility in the public square and call time out on political violence in America by cooling our tongues and to resisting the temptation to let dislikes and divisions become political hatreds and acts of aggression.

Let’s choose instead to give each other the respect and dignity we each deserve. It’s about time we yell less, pray more, and come together as fellow Americans to celebrate our common heritage and solve our problems.

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