Two and half months later, a disturbed and troubled man went to a neighboring store and set a fire. He killed several of the store’s employees and then himself. My words were immediately raised in the media. My initial response was to defend the fact that I had never condoned such violence, and never would. But the fact is, if I in any way contributed to the climate – which was clearly more volatile than I had thought – I had to be more careful and deliberate in my public language rather than sharpen my defenses.
As we sort out what happened in Tucson, we must resist the temptation to merely cast blame, and we all must be more aware of the weakness of the idea that we do not somehow contribute to the vitriolic atmosphere. Everyone must be alert. Much as I went over the line years ago, those with public voices must ensure that their messages cannot be misconstrued as calling for a heinous act. Every morning, I think about how wounds are very real – psychologically and physically.
I hope that as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. King this weekend, we can think as he did about how we can be passionate toward what we believe in without also being poisonous. It’s time for all of us to strive toward a place where intelligent conversation supersedes nonsensical violence.