This morning, I was sitting in the members' lounge at the Y and overheard part of a conversation. The television set was tuned to a news network which was focused on the shooting of 18 people in Arizona yesterday. Earlier in the news, there was a long piece about bullying as well. Some of the viewers in the lounge suggested that other American politicians contributed to this shooting spree because they use gun-related language when describing how their followers should react to a political opponent (get them in your cross-hairs). Another viewer lamented that this shooting will lead to more pressure for "politically correct language". Only crazies, she thought, would take the meaning of these "poetic licenced" expressions literally.
I do not know why the young man chose to shoot 18 people. It is possible that he was mentally ill. It is possible that he took a rational course of action based on words he trusted.
I know that words are very powerful. From the verbal insults that the school bullies cast at their fellow students, to the strident language of policital opponents that are reported very widenly, both by broadcast and by personal devices, words can cause reactions. Words colour the imagination, suggest what is possible, affirm who is powerful and who is not. Words can castigate our enemies and glorify our friends beyond reason.
The biblical creation story tells us that the universe was created from nothing but the word. The only real power that any of us has, is in choosing our words very carefully. Each of us can uplift or downcast others with just words. Should we legislate how words should be used? I am not sure that such a law covering all public speech is even possible. But each of us can choose to measure our own words beginning with the next words we speak.