Better Angels

Two quotes from Toni Morrison who died this week.

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

“There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

The other events of the week include mass shootings at El Paso and Dayton.  We know that in the case of the El Paso shooter he was driven by hate.  And his hate was fueled by language—the language of racist web sites.  I reflect on the power of language.  I believe that language can heal as well as hurt.  What language can we use to help our so-called civilization heal?

It is easy for me to point to our Divider in Chief and his screeds.  You know the ones.  I don’t have to repeat them here.  But on further reflection I have to acknowledge the impact of name calling from the other side.  I recently hung out with relatives who are Trump supporters.  They said the tipping point for them was when Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables”.

The voice of the People are demanding action.  Action in the form of language in a bill that would require universal background checks, red flag provisions, assault weapons bans, and limits on magazine capacities, for example.  The language of a bill that is stuck in the Senate that has already passed the House, that is being held up by the majority leader.  The language that my never go to the floor of the Senate to be debated and acted upon.

A childhood taunt: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Yes, they can. Words can bully.  Words can incite.  But words can also soothe and heal.  They can cause us to act, to reach across, to help us come together.  It is time we put aside invective and remember what Lincoln said in his first inaugural address:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 

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