Just Words

Remember Barack Obama's "Just Words" speech?

"Don't tell me that words don't matter.

I have a dream. Just words.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.  Just words.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Just words."

They may have been just Deval Patrick's words, but regardless of who they originally belonged to, I was reminded of the speech yesterday as I processed the news of the Arizona shooting.  Questions of what responsibility the rhetoric of Sarah Palin and others played in the shooting began almost immediately, and so we come back, again, to debate the power of "just words."

Every word we speak has power.   If all words were "just words," it would mean nothing to find "I love you" on the lips of another.  Yet it does.  It would mean nothing to hear one spoken from a child for the first time.  Yet it does.  And, I was reminded as I sat in church today, thinking of just words, the word of the Lord would mean nothing.  And yet, to billions, it does.

I have a dream.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
We have nothing to fear but fear itself.


Those three sentences declared at such very different points in history by such very different leaders defined "just" in a way that transcended the meaning as merely words from flowery speeches.  They defined the word "just" at its highest power:  "guided by truth, reason, justice, and fairness."  They gave us understanding; they united us; they led us into a better place in our nation and our world.

And therein lies the struggle I face with the argument that messages like "Don't retreat. Reload," are just words.

Because those words are not just.  They are guided by manipulation, violence, anger and contempt.  They have no higher calling beyond themselves.  Our nation is so quick to trade justness for hatred that we have begun to accept these types of words, instead of just words, as acceptable political rhetoric. 
 
And so, the argument here isn't whether Sarah Palin said the words that caused the shooting. 

It's that those words -- which were not and never will be, by any definition, "just" words -- were ever said at all. 
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