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Story Last modified at 9:37 p.m. on Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Even children get it; why can't the politicians?

There's a repeated refrain in our house when one of our children comes home with a complaint about a rude act or hurtful comment made by a classmate.

Inevitably, I'm driving them home from school or practice when the story begins, coming to me from the back seat. I listen, usually ask a few questions, and then say:

"That doesn't sound fun. Well, remember how this makes you feel and remember never to say (or do) something like that to anyone."

This is not rocket science. I think I read it in a parenting book years ago, or took a cue from my own parents or other adults I admire. In its simplest form, it's known as The Golden Rule, and it has a basis in a variety of philosophies and religions, including Christianity ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"), Buddhism ("Put oneself in the place of another") and Judaism (Do not bear a grudge against your kinsfolk"). Ancient Greek and Egyptian philosophy centers around this concept of human decency. The hippie generation lived amid this mantra. Today's peace-keepers from all walks of life allege to do the same.

When news of the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and at least 17 others – six of whom died as a result of the gunman's rampage – hit the newsstands two weeks ago, the shock and horror of such acts were immediately overshadowed by the blame and finger-pointing.

The political left accused Alaska's former governor Sarah Palin for inciting the violence with her excessive use of firearms terminology such as "crosshairs," "reload" and "target." (After all, such terms complement her "I'm so Alaskan" reality show quite nicely).

The conservative right wing hurled back accusations that the press "should not manufacture a blood libel," thus launching another round of in-fighting about what is proper to say, and when to say it, in times of tragedy.

I couldn't help but think of those back-seat stories coming from my fourth-grader and wondering if the in-fighting going on in politics right now is one of the worst examples of The Golden Rule to ever be demonstrated. Kids seem to get the simple lesson. Why can't our politicians? In no way are these people role models to young children trying to find a way to peacefully co-exist.

No matter what the pundits conclude about the nastiness surrounding politics today, one fact remains: Six people – including a 9-year-old girl who wanted to one day become a politician herself – died on Jan. 8.

You be the judge. We'll never know for sure if the man accused of the killings chose to murder based solely on the words of one person, or one group of people, or voices echoing in his own twisted mind.

But one thing is clear: If the less-than-civil discourse between liberals and conservatives had not been a regular occurrence, if the divisive words had not been trumpeted by the media, if the words had not been spoken, then we wouldn't have to ask ourselves if they might have caused or influenced this tragedy. The mayhem, the injuries, and the deaths may still have happened, but at least the words would not have been spoken.

Words, after all, cannot be taken back.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, January 19, 2011.