I felt pretty discouraged when I hit “publish” on my post yesterday. To sum it up, I said something to the effect of: We live in a free world full of self-serving politicians and ratings hungry journalists and crazies and egocentric maniacs that want to tear us down and its up to us to be nice to each other and make it right if we want it right. But when I hit publish I wasn’t exactly sure that anyone really wanted to make anything right.
Last night, I was curled up ready to listen to the President’s speech when I got a phone call and missed the whole thing. So a few minutes ago I went back and reread it.
It’s like he read some of my post and spoke directly to my concerns. I suppose that’s his job, to address what people are worried about. But (and check out this new feeling that I haven’t felt recently) I felt encouraged. He said some really, really good things.
Granted, people actually have to take them to heart, of course.
So anyway, with what few remaining bits of hope I have left hanging in the wind here, I thought I would quote the parts that encouraged me most. Because at least someone gets it. And I’m just glad that person is my President.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?
So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.
If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.
I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
- President Obama, Tucson, January 12, 2011