Happy New Year

We’re midway through the first month in the new year and aren’t we off to a fine start? The chatter on cable channels has reached epic proportions in light of the unspeakable and unbearable murders and attempted assassination in Tucson. I had intended that my first blog of 2011 be a celebration a successful first year in business as well as an expression of gratitude to so many who supported me either through kind words, a cup of coffee, business advice or retaining my firm. Instead, I find myself compelled to comment about some of what I’ve witnessed this week after the shooting.

It should be no surprise that after the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the pundits began endless speculating, opinionating and pontificating around a myopic perspective about the motivations for this horrific act of violence.

I admit I can’t stop watching. First of all, I had been hoping that someone would magically declare that this beloved congresswoman would wake, get strong and head home intact and in her husband’s arms.

And that began happening last night during President Obama’s remarks. Before the president spoke to Tucson and the country, I originally had written in this blog that I was  waiting for the nation’s conversation to take on a more intellectual perspective over just blaming political rhetoric.

Obviously, the gunman’s behavior has a connection to government – he tried to kill a United States Congresswoman. And based on what’s been reported (hopefully accurately) he seemed focused on Rep. Giffords. Blaming Sarah Palin, FOX News and the liberal media is entertaining but remarkably narrow, uniformed and unhelpful in a national discussion.

It’s never just one thing in and of itself. It’s the totality of everything. Contributing factors include news media, politicians, video games, television, the movies, the economy, Jerry Springer, people’s behavior in traffic and the flagrant use of the “F” word, to name a few. I have yet to hear anyone inquire about what went on in that man's home that made him such a danger? 

Meanwhile, the overall coarsening of society has contributed to a diminished concern about how other people receive and react to what is said -- how we speak to each other. Civil discourse is vanishing. You’re either on the side of right or you are the enemy.

The bravery and heroism demonstrated by so many others at that shopping center last Saturday is proof that human beings are by nature, caring creatures. It shouldn’t take a moment like this to remind us that it’s important to choose our words carefully.

Much of public relations counsel involves advising clients about when it’s best to speak and when it’s smarter to say nothing at all. It will always be important to think about what you’re saying, where you are when you’re saying it and why you need to say anything at all.

Sarah Palin had been serving herself well by staying silent in these post-event and painful days. But apparently she could help herself no longer and wanted to be heard. And indeed she was after she released a video that included her use of the phrase “blood libel,” a term that is very specifically and horrifically anti-Semitic.

If Ms. Palin knew the meaning of the term, shame on her for using it, most especially in the middle of this national nightmare. If she was uneducated about its meaning, shame on her for not knowing what her words mean and creating such a stir and a distraction. This mother of five seems to have forgotten that another mother and father lost their nine-year-old daughter while more families lost their loved ones. Speaking out in defense of her reputation was ill-advised, especially in the midst of such massive loss of life.

Hopefully, Rep. Giffords’ ironic message earlier this year about civility -- that there are “consequences” to what is said and how -- will be the message with greater volume. And perhaps President Obama’s inspirational remarks in Tucson will help redirect the way we speak to and about each other. It’s time for everyone to think about how we navigate the world.

Words matter.