As we mourn the shootings in Arizona of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Federal Judge John Roll, 9-year old Christina Taylor Green and others, we must also begin to question ourselves deeply. Where does it all begin – this idea that if we don’t like some “bad guys” we should just get rid of them? We cast out, we imprison, we exile, we kill. Conversely, for fear of those who have been cast out, exiled, imprisoned, threatened with death, we lock ourselves up behind walls, armed to the teeth.
In the United States today, examples of this behavior abound. Starting at the top, our country sends armies, bombers, and attack drones to kill people in Afghanistan and Pakistan who are – or just might be – enemies. Many, maybe even most, of these are completely innocent. Our country sends arms to other countries so that they can more effectively lock up or kill those they consider to be their (and our) enemies, inside their own countries or without.
These tactics set up a model for political thought and action that then appears in the lower rungs of the political ladder. Sarah Palin thought it was perfectly fine to circulate images of Gabrielle Giffords in the crosshairs of a gun sight. As Rep. James Clyborn (D.SC) said in the aftermath of the Arizona tragedy, words have consequences. If we care about preserving life, if we care about the health of our political life, we must watch what we say and speak out against vitriolic attacks.
Wherever it began, the idea of separation as a means of social control has been around for a long time. In Genesis, we are told the story of Adam and Eve being cast out of Eden for disobedience. Later stories tell us that God (read those humans who conquered during times of social turmoil) destroyed whole cities for misbehavior. Homicide must have been common enough so that it was felt necessary to declare it an abomination in Moses’ 10 Commandments.
Perhaps in early societies banishment and death seemed like sensible solutions for dealing with those who did not conform to the norms of the community. However, today our globe is too densely populated and interdependent for old methods for dealing with disputes to succeed. Dare I say that we must learn the ways of dialogue and non-violence if we want our civilization to survive?
As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, here is one small quote from his marvelous April 4, 1967 speech against the Vietnam War as he talks about listening to the arguments of the North Vietnamese: “Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and non-violence when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessments of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
Let us say good-bye to the concept of “bad guys.”