Talk of the Nation the other day with Karen Armstrong. Karen is a theologian and scholar, and of late has been promoting better integration of compassion in our personal and public lives. In the snippet I heard, Karen was remarking that, in general, people are less interested in being compassionate than they are in being right.
BAM! Ain't that the truth? How astounding that Karen's presence and conversation on NPR should follow right on the heels of the shootings in Tucson.
In the days following that tragedy there has been no shortage of outrage directed at various quarters to charge groups and individuals with a form of complicity in the shooting. As the immediacy of the event has moved on to investigation and a bucketful of questions, so have the accusations been harangued as opportunistic and partisan. Here's the rub. I believe that the quick finger-pointing was opportunistic and irresponsible: that doesn't mean that the content of what was said is wrong. If anything, it is spot on. Whether or not politics played a part in Loughner's motivation, Sheriff Dupnik's declaration that angry and violent rhetoric in our country has led us down a dangerous road is true.
The cases in point have been well delineated, with Sarah Palin and her map of targets at the top of the list. And much as I think that the far right wing of the Republican party is most guilty of angry and violent words and symbols in their sound-bites (including the phrase "job-killing"), there is plenty of guilt to go around when it comes to treating others with civility and respect. Compassion? Not even a blip on the radar.
Perhaps the most telling evidence that such language has become tolerated (if not accepted) is news coming out of South Carolina. The Palmetto State Armory, manufacturer of weapons galore, is creating a limited edition assault rifle engraved with the words, "You Lie," to honor Congressman Joe Wilson. Thank you, Joe, for opening this door to an industry of vilification, bigotry and hate. (For the record, that sentence is dripping with sarcasm.) What is wrong with you people? Assault rifles have one purpose: killing people. Does this act not scream of endorsement to kill people with whom you disagree?
Beginning today, I am adding to my sporadically prayed list of causes hearts that nurture hate. Although there isn't anyone I hate, I will start with what lives in my own heart when it comes to holding myself apart from others by demeaning or belittling them. All of us have hard places within our hearts that would benefit from healing.
Karen Armstrong suggests practicing twelve ways of living a more compassionate life. Perhaps along with our prayers, we might incorporate what she has learned through her work and study. It is far more important, after all, that I am in relationship with others, rather than be right.