Opinion: Conversation must trump rhetoric

6/22/2017 | G. Michael Dobbs

Category: June

I don’t know about you, but the senseless shooting at the baseball practice of the Republican House team underscored for me the continuing crisis in this country.

Here is what I took away:

Mentally unstable people have access to guns.

The rhetoric from extremists on both sides of the political aisle has influence over people.

Some of our leaders have fanned this flame in order to energize their base.

Some of my Facebook friends took this terrible event as an opportunity to call people who have progressive political views names such as “libtard,” or decided the shooter represents the values of Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party.

The blame, according to some, has been laid at the feet of TV comics such as Stephen Colbert.

Some members of Congress are now asking for unity after the shooting.

So what is going to happen next?

Are we going to change gun laws to try to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people? How can we do that? Would gun ownership advocates support such actions?

Will the pundits who make their living by inflaming their audiences turn it down a bit? Will they realize their words do have impact? And how do we do this without infringing freedom of speech?

Should I engage with people on Facebook when they make broad statements about progressives and explain to them their generalities are inaccurate?

It’s time for all of the calls for unity to actually mean something. President Donald Trump is not doing the country a favor by calling for people to come together in one breath and then tweeting some outrageous message the next.

Now here is what I’m going to do – in fact it is the only thing I can do: Talk civilly about what we can do to find common ground and try to strengthen relationships between people of varying political beliefs.

It is only through shedding some of our ideologies can we find solutions for serious and complex problems. Shouting slogans at one another hasn’t solved anything so far, has it?

I’m writing this column on my vacation – yes, I’m always working – and, in fact, while I’m sitting in an Amtrak train. My seatmate described himself as a conservative and yet we had a great conversation in which we agreed on a number of issues. There was no shouting, no tired talking points.

The conversation came about because both of us wanted a civil constructive conversation. The problem is many people don’t want that kind of discussion.

There is power derived from division and money to be made as well.

Perhaps more than anything, we’ve allowed ourselves to be seduced into the laziness of viewing the world through an ideology instead of trying to understand people and situations on a singular basis. We believe that sharing a meme or calling someone a name on social media is a contribution toward solving a problem.

It is not.

This latest act of homegrown terrorism is indeed the fruit of several conditions. We need to determine if we can take steps that preserve Constitutional rights while at the same time making improvements that could protect all of us.

Speaking of having a reasonable conversation, the folks in Hampden who wish to separate the regional middle school agreement should step back and take a hard look at the financial advantages of remaining as a regional district.

I’m not from Hampden, so I don’t know of the long history of animosity between people of Hampden and Wilbraham and how it manifests in behaviors of school children. I do know that teachers at the Thornton W. Burgess Middle School believe the town would lose student services if the break happens.

What is more important: town pride or the best education that could be offered to children?

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