After Tucson shooting, soul searching

Congressional staffers observe a moment of silence in honor of the Tucson shooting victims. Six people died and 14 were … Continued

Congressional staffers observe a moment of silence in honor of the Tucson shooting victims. Six people died and 14 were wounded, including Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Violence, like the weekend shooting in Arizona, is scary. Random violence, like the death of nine year-old Christina Green who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time this weekend is particularly terrifying.

In the face of such terror, we seek reasons and explanations. We want to know who and what is to blame, hoping that if we could figure that out and make it go away, we would be free of such horrors as the mass murder which occurred in a Tucson shopping center just 48 hours ago.

I appreciate that impulse, and even indulged it for a while, seeking to figure out who created the context which enabled and empowered the accused shooter, Jared Loughner. According to the AP, “Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described the gunman as mentally unstable,” so accepting that we were not going to solve the problem of mental illness in the immediate future, I, like so many of us, wanted to find something we could address.

Like most people experiencing a moment of powerlessness and pain, I wanted something I could point to, something I could do something about. I found that “something” in Sarah Palin’s gun crosshairs ads. I wanted to lash out about the ways in which the Tucson shooting and the critical wounding of Rep. Gabby Giffords was a natural outcome of portraying her district in Ms. Palin’s crosshairs.

Like many in the Jewish community, I even made quick comparisons to the rabbis whose teachings contributed to the context in which Yigal Amir, the assassin who murdered Yitchak Rabin, found justification for his actions. When leaders speak of violence, and use violent metaphors, actual violence is sure to follow. The problem is that even if that is so, shouting about it now will not actually help us.

The truth is, while there is a momentary burst of comfort in finding a cause, or contributing factor, in the shooting – particularly one which gives us the moral high ground, it doesn’t really help. For starters, the initial analyses which follow a tragedy are rarely correct – they tend to be more about reassuring ourselves of the goodness of our own position than anything else. Second, such analyses typically provides comfort only by making us feel bad about something else – in my case, Sarah Palin’s ads, which is small comfort indeed.

Instead of raging about what someone else did to contribute to the shock, sorrow and pain we are feeling, we need to look to ourselves. Trying times, in Jewish tradition, have always called for self-examination – in Hebrew it’s called Heshbon HaNefesh, or soul searching.

Soul searching is not about letting those who pull the triggers off the hook. It is not about letting those who contribute to the culture in which pulling triggers seems more reasonable, off the hook either. But it is about looking inward to address those things which really are within our control, rather than simply raging about those things which are not.

In the wake of the shooting which took six lives and wounded 14 more, including Rep. Giffords, we can do more than rage about what others did and continue to do to contribute to incivility of our political culture. We can begin to change that culture by changing ourselves – something which we all have the power to do. I think it’s what Gandhi meant when he taught people to be the change they wanted to see in the world.
In the wake of rising incivility, each of us can be a bit more civilized. Every one of us could speak a bit more gently, with a bit more appreciation of those with whom we come into contact. It’s amazing how healing that can be, as anyone who lived through the events of 9/11 in New York City can attest to.

Following the September 11th attacks, the people of New York City behaved better for weeks. There was a healing which came from deciding to treat each other better after others had attacked us so savagely. If this weekend’s shooting is as big a tragedy as people are saying, then let’s use the weeks following 9/11 as a model – let’s create the culture we want, even if it is in millions of “small” acts, rather than bemoan the absence of such a culture.

And if we still want to locate accountability, here’s another thing we can all do – one which really will change our political culture. We could start supporting politicians based not only on the policies they support, but based on how they advocate for those policies.

If changing the political culture is really what we want, it’s within our reach. As soon as being right about any given issue takes a back seat to how people behave when working on that issue, the culture will change.

When we hold our officials, from the left and the right, to that shared standard, we are being the change we want and making that change in the world. That too is about soul-searching. It’s about deciding if the quick hit of moral superiority which comes from being right will outstrip our desire for more durable decency.

It’s up to us, even in the midst of events which we often feel are beyond our control and out of our reach. We can search our souls and be the change we hope to see, and it’s amazing how healing that can be.

Brad Hirschfield
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  • clarkt2

    The book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg helped me understand how what we says has a tremendous impact. Retoric that is much less extreme than that which is being criticized sets the tone for our social interactions. We each need to consider what we think and say.

  • abu_ibrahim

    O Rabbi, indeed «each of us can be a bit more civilized», each of us can follow the advice of Motorist Rodney King, which is, «¿can we not all get along?».Murder, cold-blooded bloody murder, ¿is not murder the absolute worst, the most horrifying, of all crimes? Justify, surely nothing can justify murder, Americans, we make heroes out of murderers, they dragged settlers out of their homes in Lawrence, Kansas, and butchered them, they killed approximately sixty white men, women and children in their homes, they were hanged for their murders, ¿do we Americans see these murderers as villains? Or do we lionize these murderers as heroes because they murdered «for the cause»?Infallible history source, it is Wikipedia, hear the words of the Wikipedia:«The Pottawatomie Massacre occurred during the night of May 24 and the morning of May 25, 1856. In reaction to the sacking of Lawrence (Kansas) by pro-slavery forces, John Brown and a band of abolitionist settlers (some of them members of the Pottawatomie Rifles) killed five settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas.»«Nat Turner’s Rebellion (also known as the Southampton Insurrection) was a slave rebellion that took place in Southampton County, Virginia during August 1831. Led by Nat Turner, rebel slaves killed anywhere from 55-65 white people, the highest number of fatalities caused by slave uprisings in the South. . . . The rebels spared almost no one whom they encountered. A small child who hid in a fireplace was among the few survivors. The slaves killed approximately sixty white men, women and children before Turner and his brigade of insurgents were defeated.»Americans, when we sing «John Brown’s Body», we are making a hero out of a cold-blooded murderer, we are saying his murders were OK because he did them «for the cause». When we praise «The Diary of Nat Turner», we are excusing that cold-blooded killer of women and children because he killed «for the cause». Ukrainians, ¿are we Americans any better than the Ukrainians?, they put up statues to honor Chmielnitsky, he is their national hero, Chmielnitsky chopped off many innocent people’s heads, «Chmielnitsky massacres» in Christian 17th century, Ukrainians must think massacres were OK because Chmielnitsky did them «for the cause», we Americans must think Nat Turner’s and John Brown’s massacres were OK because they massacred «for the cause». No wonder some nut at the Safeway in Tucson thinks it is OK to murder for his «cause», whatever it is!O Rabbi, the activists «for the cause», this is what we must tell them: «Whatever your cause is, if your cause can succeed only by murdering innocent people, then your cause, it does not deserve to succeed». Civilized humans, they do not solve their problems with other humans by «terminating» them, civilized life is not a «Terminator» movie, let us strive that ever we may let these words our watch-cry be: «¿Can we not get along?»

  • whocares666

    Fundamentally the shooter did nothing more than what “tea party” candidates campaigned for, “take them out” and “Second Amendment remedies”. Remember when the “real-Americans” attended Obama campaign stops armed with automatic weapons. There was no out cry, no calls for soul searching. As I recall every “tea party” candidate claimed to be a person of “faith”. Today, the media’s hate mongers are not involved in soul searching just daily revisionism of events. CHEERS!

  • WmarkW

    Sarah Palin’s firearm metaphors are a nothing. Political rhetoric is not beholden to what our 300 millionth most unstable citizen might do.What’s more worrisome in that people who opposed the health care reform were taking guns to town hall meetings in Summer 09. Or to the rally in Virginia about the federal budget early last year.What’s the point of taking a firearm to an event like that, except to imply you might commit violence against the government if it passes a law you don’t like?

  • momvera

    Nonviolent Communications: a language of life sounds like something the schools should have in their curriculum.

  • mobilemavy

    An American rabbi is a far left lover. His comments are empty and have no meaning at all. In fact, he is an idiot.

  • letitbe

    This Troubled Lad, did what He Did (Not The Devil) because of How His Parents and or Elder Siblings or maybe Nanny, Raised Him! Maybe His Daddy Abused him (Hit Him; or maybe Sexual assaulted Him?/). WE’ll Find Out. Wait Three Months. Think About Something Else.Guy’s Like These Should’ve Been Aborted by Their Mother’s before their Birth!!!He Wore Black, He Worshiped Skulls in the Open (Yard) or in his Closets.The Lad has a GERMAN Sounding Name. The 1st and Primary Target was/is JU?His Parents(?) Gave him Too Much Freedom On The “TEMPTING” Internet when he was too young; Now He Thinks He is Grown?”P-U-N-K” Is Not The Word. “MA SHU-GA” is Not The Word. “Schizophrenic” or “Bipolar” is NOt the Culprit. It’s DRUGS and or ALCOHOL. A Classic Case where the YOUNG DON’t Know what they are Doing in the Great Experiment Of LIFE.Did Ye Forget That, If YE YO Live By The GUN, Then Will Die By The GUN (Excluding Innocents)! So,Go Suit FACEBOOK (Social Networks) & CO.! And Or SUIT The COLLEGE he went to too!C O N D O L E N C E S to ALL GOOD MEN/Kids & GOOD WOMAN/Kids and WE[i] Ache For The Stand By’rs or immediate family(s).VOTE for: APOCALYPTIC GOVERNMENT and GRIDARIAN DEMOCRACY!Something To LIVE FOR NOt to Die For!Note: PSYCHIATRY, or PSYCHOLOGISTS {Secular-Agents], are the “PRIESTS” of The “PUBLIC” [Courts Systems Etc..]., Not The Priests of CHURCH’s! So, We’ll leave (Prognosis/Diagnosis) up to Them ‘Public-Priests’ To Explain WHAT and or WHY This Young LAD committed this [S-E-L-F-i-S-H] “Un-Forgiven” Act or Thing.SANITY TO INSANITY?PS: Since This Incident; Imagine How many More People (Young/Old) Died (Before Their Holyi-Time) as of Today; In U.S.A.; i.e., via Drugs, Vehicle,, Accidents, Murders, etc..Pleazzza, Do Not Blame Ms. PALIN et al! Blame Ye Selves orBLAME A-P-A-T-H-Y!, BLAME A-P-A-T-H-Y!…! Take YeYo CHOICE!?SOo, “ABORTIONS” are Good Only If WE[i] Can Predict “Charles Mansions”, “Son Of Sam”s et al and now this Lad; And The Other Ones in da Futures (Near).! ThenShould Not HITLER or STALIN (Mas Killers) been ABORTION’D before Birth?? AYE! Right POPE & CO.?? OYE…!

  • letitbe

    Ooops. QUESTION: Besides The Lad being some “Stalker” Suppose Mrs. Gifford (Who Is or Was? JU) Observed The Sabbath; Would This Of Happened anyway?

  • yasseryousufi

    Crosshairs is the new swastika, Tea Part is the New Nazi Party

  • flyersout

    Good Point Rabbi !I’ll kill me a sacrificialBeing a Christist, though,