Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

“Have you no sense of decency?”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Congressman--an actual member of the U. S. House of Representatives, yelled out, “You lie” while the President was talking last night. And representatives and senators fluttered little pieces of papers saying who knows what, while another was busy texting. The words that came to my mind were what Joseph Welch, the army’s chief counsel asked Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Where is Welch when we need him?

I’ve written before about the public conversation being hijacked by angry words. I wrote a post called “The words we choose to use” right after the murder of Dr. George Tiller. In it, I referred to a column by Ellen Goodman about what she called the myth of the lone shooter, saying that an environment of angry words creates the individuals who pull the trigger.

It’s understandable that Rush Limbaugh et al. will use the most inflammatory language possible: the more outrageous they can be the more they get paid. But what’s in it for the all the rest? (Not to mention what’s in it for an elected member of the federal government to disrespect the federal government? Reminds me of the Groucho Marx line about not wanting to join any club that would have someone like him as a member.) Can’t we just dial back the rhetoric and maybe find our way to a zero-tolerance policy for disrespect and defamation?

And just as I finished writing this post, I saw this, proof, perhaps, of an idea at the right time.

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The words we choose to use

Monday, June 8, 2009

I’ve written frequently about the power of words. It's something I feel strongly about. I’ve talked about how we teach little children to “use your words” to make themselves understood instead of fighting or biting or throwing tantrums. I’ve written about being vigilant not to let our words lose their meaning. The most mundane and silly example of that is when we ask for a “tall” coffee at Starbucks when what we really want is their smallest size. And, of course, more insidious recent examples include legislative naming rights like “Defense of Marriage Act” and “Patriot Act.”

I thought about words and their power again the other day when I read Ellen Goodman’s outstanding op-ed piece, The Myth of the Lone Shooter, about the murder of Dr. George Tiller. She makes the point that, again and again, the person supposedly acting alone to commit a appalling act like Scott Roeder’s has been aided and abetted by a universe of people shooting hateful words from the hip.

The pen, as we’ve all been taught, is mightier than the sword and the two together are an unbeatable combination, for good or ill. In the case of Roeder, the word, written and spoken, sharpened the sword, morphed its use into a righteous act, and whispered self-deception into his ear. The words came from Bill O’Reilly et al. ranting onscreen, from the Operation Rescue people shouting at women entering abortion clinics, from opportunistic public figures glomming onto an issue, and from private citizens who are kind to their dogs and buy Girl Scout cookies and generally think of themselves as good people. And from any one of us who plays fast and loose with the power of what we say.

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