Last night, President Obama addressed the nation about the recent shooting in Arizona during an honest speech in Tucson that was moving in the simplicity of its message: we must treat each other better. At the heart of his message was a desire to honor the vision of the youngest victim of gunman Jared Lee Loughner’s rampage, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, born on 9/11.
Green was by all accounts a remarkable young girl. President Obama noted that “she had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful.” Obama, his hair looking a bit more grey than it has in the past, told the large and enthusiastic crowd gathered at the University of Arizona, Green “was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.”
President Obama only subtly addressed the fallout polarizing figures like Sarah Palin have faced since the shooting, saying:
Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
The President did well to focus the bulk of his speech on 9-year-old Green, because as he stated, in her, “we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic. So deserving of our love. And so deserving of our good example.”
I can’t think of a more compelling reason for any of us to stop and do what we so often tell our own children to do – to think before we speak.
Toward the end of his speech, President Obama shared a sentiment that I hold dear to my heart, one that as I recovered from the devastating knowledge that my entire marriage had been a sham, helped me regain my sanity and my hope for and trust in humanity. He said, “I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”
If we all believe that – if we all live up to what our nation’s leader so aptly described as Christina Taylor Green’s “expectations” of our citizenry – perhaps we can all heal from this tragedy in a way that closes our cultural divide instead of widening it even further. If we don’t edge closer to civility in the days ahead, I fear we’ll creep further toward civil war.
Photo still from the White House Youtube Channel