Responding to an increasingly violent society


The violence in Tucson is one more wake-up call to an increasingly violent U.S. society.

While no one knows what made a man decide to spray bullets at a simple political event for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Jan. 8, one only has to read newspapers, listen to talk radio, surf the Web and watch “reality television” to come away concerned about the violent imagery and demonization of so-called enemies that have entered into public discourse.

How does an ordinary citizen deal with this situation?

Part of the answer may lie in Scripture, where we learn that we are all children of God, and brothers and sisters to one another. Cain and Abel are not our role models.

The answer lies in the image of Jesus, who boldly said to love your enemies. It lies in New Testament images which herald caring figures, such as the Good Shepherd and Good Samaritan, not Rambo or mass murderers.

On a practical level, are there things we can do as individuals to reduce violence overall?

Perhaps we can promise to not participate in violence even as an observer. We can eschew, for example, the verbal sparring on TV where the rule is take a one-sided position and ridicule the opposition, without being open to the fact that even a scintilla of truth may lie in another’s view. We can ignore the talk radio hosts who are more famous for put downs than intelligent commentary. A drop in their audiences would be a message to be heeded by media management and advertisers. We can refuse to follow blogs that demean individuals and toss about half-truths and lies.

We can educate ourselves in modern media. The Web that gives everyone access to the masses is not necessarily a great equalizer, unless you consider the informed and ignorant to be on a par. With nearly everyone having access to the Web, editors and fact-checkers are in short supply. That means users have to bring skepticism to what they read. If it seems unbelievable, it probably is.

We can protect the young. Bullying has been a part of young lives for as long as we can remember. Now, with the Web, it has a huge impact. Someone making fun of you to a few people when you’re a teen is troublesome; having someone bad mouth you to half the world via Twitter and Facebook is overwhelming. The huge impact of such bloodless violence calls for stepped up protections, perhaps safeguards or monitoring for the Web. Parents and educators need to assert themselves in this regard. Just as they wouldn’t permit children to beat one another to a pulp on the front lawn, they have to be sure their children aren’t pummeling one another in cyberspace.

In the entertainment realm, parents also may be called to act against violent video games, movies and so-called reality shows, which de-sensitize us to violence overall. Surely the more we expose ourselves to disrespectful treatment of others even in the make-believe world, the less horrified we will be of violence in ordinary life. Remember when saying “damn” was shocking? Now we’re so used to bad language that only the vilest seems to disturb us. Remember when young men settled things with a punch? Now a response to feeling dissed seems to be a gun.

Another way to combat violence is to look at our own attitudes toward those with whom we disagree. When faced with such a person can we pause to see if he or she has a point? Can we dismiss the impulse to disregard someone and try to understand what life is like in his or her shoes? Can we bring a voice of reason to what may seem like an unreasonable situation?

The violence in our society affects all of us. We can’t hide from it. It behooves us to see what we can do to tone it down.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh is director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.