by Chris Johnson
Hi Beliefnetters and newfound fans and friends of our page, Prophet or Madman.
I know we’re just newly acquainted, so I hope you’ll forgive a foray into territory not usually covered here, namely the tragic shooting of so many innocents in Arizona recently.
First, it is only proper to offer our condolences to the many who have suffered mightily through no fault of their own in this sad affair. That one hopelessly misguided and unwell individual could spread so much misery, while not unprecedented in our time, is a deeply unfathomable matter.
Second, this is not the time and place to agitate for or against Second Amendment rights. Neither is the argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people wholly relevant. Our civilized neighbors to the north, Canada, own more guns per capita than do we Americans, but their death rate from gun related incidents in nowhere near ours (roughly 30,000 die annually in the U.S. from gun violence,) in either absolute or relative numbers.
Third, this piece advocates for neither the position of the right nor the position of the left in the spectrum of public opinion. Indeed, left and right are archaic holdovers adopted by us from a convention used to separate partisans in the post-revolutionary Republican government of France in the 19th Century – concepts we might consider leaving behind as we seek common ground on which we can all stand and from which we can all move forward.
This piece is about the common ground on which we all stand. Did you know that there is less than a one percent difference between Shaquille O’Neil and Brittany Spears (to use two examples with which you all are probably familiar)? If fact, there is less than one percent difference in the DNA, the stuff that makes us human beings, of any two people on earth. I can’t think of a more glaring illustration of the inescapable fact that we have much, much more in common, much more that unites us, than anything or combination of things that divide us.
Yet we fixate on the one percent difference at the expense of the ninety nine percent similarity. Sadly, it is just this fixation that can lead to tragedies like the one we’ve all seen unfold in Tucson. We have become such an ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture, even though biology has recently shown us that there really is no ‘them’ – only us.
So, what are we to do? How are we to find and share the ground common to us all? I think it all comes down to a few simple principles – patience, kindness, tolerance and understanding. And as we hash out our perceived differences, a little dose of common, garden variety good manners wouldn’t hurt, either. As we create and participate in the public discourse necessary for the maintenance of a democracy, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, let’s not shout. Let’s not harangue. Let’s not deride any who don’t share our view. In short, let’s return civility to civil discourse.
As has been said, democracy is supposed to be a noisy and sometimes messy business, but let us allow tolerance and understanding to pervade our civic dialogue. The purpose of democracy is to offer the greatest good to the greatest number, to consider the common welfare, to work for the commonwealth, the commonweal. In doing so we must remember that the commonweal is constituted not only of the wealthy, the property owner, the successful and well adjusted. No, the commonweal is us all, as you all well know.
Didn’t Jesus say in his parable about the judgment of nations, “As you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me?” By his actions the young man who perpetrated this senseless violence against innocents placed himself among the least of our brethren. But he didn’t develop his mania in a vacuum. Couldn’t someone have intervened in his downward spiral into larcenous madness before his violent, murderous outburst? Are we our brothers’ keepers? I suppose in some way, especially if we consider Jesus’ words, we ought to be concerned for those of us less fortunate, those of us afflicted in some way. And our concern, if manifested as care, may very well have allowed someone to intervene before the deranged young man could inflict so much pain and suffering on his fellows. But, at the very least, we should all do our best to refrain from the kind of talk and action that incite those alienated, those sick and untreated, those whose grasp on reality and civility is tenuous, to the last resort of the impotent – violence.
How we treat and care for our fellows, especially those among us who are not well and who suffer, says more about us as a nation, more about us as human beings, more about us as children of God than anything else we do.
May divine mercy and our own better natures carry us through as we grieve, recover and press forward.