Words Have Weight
Written by
Erica W. Jamieson
January 2011
Written by
Erica W. Jamieson
January 2011

I don’t really pay much attention to the political rhetoric out there.  It’s so loud, and well adversarial, and seems to mostly be about posturing in the long run.  So much of it gets lost anyway over time in the next, louder, more earth shattering sound bite taken out of context, or reverberating on Facebook that outside of a passing glance, or listening on one of the dubious comic news programs, I find it useless to my everyday comings and goings, driving carpool, grocery shopping, hovering over teenagers.   I like my cloistered world, secreted away from too much tweeting and texting and words that lack grammar or sense or meaning.

But then came Loughner and the sheriff who stepped out of his safe zone to begin a dialogue that so needs to take place.  The power of our words.  Maybe because of the high profile of marketing, the internet, Facebook, tweeting, we have become so entrenched in sound bites that are startling and fleeting in nature we have forgotten how weighty our words can be.  But I can tell you words are heavy, man.  They come with history.  They propel us into the future.  They can inspire us to push ourselves beyond our own limits, they can halt us with an alarming sense of consequence.  Sheriff Dupnik was perhaps overzealous in speaking at the moment he did but it is out of great passion that words flow and infuse the moment, on the wings of doves, to make us think.  The sheriff’s words did nothing more than call out the recent bating of vitriolic political rhetoric.  They were not so much about about blame as they were about the raising of our national conscience on a subject that we have let slide, that I particularly have simply chosen to ignore.  Up until now.

And so I was incensed to read about Sarah Palin’s video raising the rhetoric again about blame.  I have teenagers in my house.  I know that the first one to yell that we are blaming them for something is the one I should be blaming.  It’s funny intuition, if you are guilt free your first thought is not to deflect blame.  Sarah Palin chose the very day that a memorial was being held in the tragic deaths of those in Arizona last week to cast aspersions on the the public, the media, any and all who have suggested that perhaps we need to consider the weight of our words.  Raising an issue for discussion, consumption, digestion, thought, is not blame.  Sarah’s timing was wrong.  Wednesday was not a day to cast off blame.  It was a humble day intended for reflection on those who died and those who rose in our esteem, in their own esteem, as saviors.  It was a day, perhaps, to consider the shattered ideals of this nation.  

Obama spoke in Arizona.  Here is something he said:

   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.

LA Times, Jan. 13, AA7, Obama Shares victims' stories, 


Apparently, Sarah wasn’t listening.  This is what she said in her video released on the same day:

   After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern and now with sadness to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event...journalists and pundits should not manufacture blood libel...that only serves to incite the hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. LA Times, Jan. 13, AA6. Palin Condemns Violence


To question actions or words with hindsight in the aftermath of such a specific shedding of blood may feel like blame to those uncomfortable with any role they may have inadvertently played, remote as it may have been.  But it was not blame that was being apportioned. It is a wise discussion being instigated, a call to consider the consequences of our words, a platform on which to  understand, even in our techno sound-bit blighted world, that words have weight.  I don’t think anyone would question the mental stability of a man who shoots down strangers in cold blood.  I don’t think anyone one was “targeting” the politicians of Arizona or anyone else as suspects in this heinous crime.

It’s not blame  that was being apportioned in the media and by the sheriff’s comments.  It was consequence.  Words have consequence.  

But I guess that message went unheard, unheeded, simply ignored by Sarah Palin.  If she understood that this current dialogue, so over due, was about words and their consequences, particularly to those listening who sit on the edge of reality and mental stability, she might have chosen not to use the words “blood libel.”  Oh, those two words together might sound high profile and marketable when trying to send a message about irresponsible journalism.  Can you hear it?   Libel.  Journalists. Pundits. Blood.  But words, these words, have history. Words have weight.  And “blood libel” is an historical heavy weight champ.  Sarah Palin’s irreverence to the history of these words, her refusal to even consider that her words, let alone actions, might bare consequences other than simply feigning her to an office in the political arena is the deception at the very core of the issues that need airing.  It’s not always about blame nor about winning.  It is about responsibility.

Popping up on my Facebook page today were the words spoken by Bill Clinton on the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma Bombings:

  But what we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or reduce our passion from the positions we hold -- but that the words we use really do matter, because there's this vast echo chamber and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. And I am not trying to muzzle anybody. But one of the things that the conservatives have always brought to the table in America is a reminder that no law can replace personal responsibility. And the more power you have and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have.

  Reprinted from First Read,  from NBC news, in an article by Sarah Blackwill and Mark Murray, Bill Clinton: Words Matter

I may be lost in the five o’clock traffic jam politically charged with so much rhetoric.  But when that rhetoric is issued by someone with an audience on a day that should be cloaked in the delicate shroud of reverence I have to tune in my attentions.  In the same way I would caution irreverent teenagers speaking out of turn and without thought  in the back of my car during carpool hours, someone needs to caution Sarah Palin about her chose of words.  When I hear something that is spoken irresponsibly and without understanding of the deeper possible consequences, I speak up.  Hey, I might say, think about what your saying.  More, importantly, think about who’s listening.  Think about all the ways it can be interpreted and misinterpreted.  And then I ask, is that what you meant to say?  Are you willing to suffer the consequences, even those unintended and misconstrued, of your words?  

Words have weight.  Chose them wisely.  It is what separates us from the beasts, thumbs and words. But usually it is our words, not the thumb stamp of blame and rhetoric, that will live on in posterity.  It is words that can effect a nation.  It is words that can inspire one lone mad man.

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