The words we choose to use
Monday, June 8, 2009
I thought about words and their power again the other day when I read Ellen Goodman’s outstanding op-ed piece, The Myth of the Lone Shooter, about the murder of Dr. George Tiller. She makes the point that, again and again, the person supposedly acting alone to commit a appalling act like Scott Roeder’s has been aided and abetted by a universe of people shooting hateful words from the hip.
The pen, as we’ve all been taught, is mightier than the sword and the two together are an unbeatable combination, for good or ill. In the case of Roeder, the word, written and spoken, sharpened the sword, morphed its use into a righteous act, and whispered self-deception into his ear. The words came from Bill O’Reilly et al. ranting onscreen, from the Operation Rescue people shouting at women entering abortion clinics, from opportunistic public figures glomming onto an issue, and from private citizens who are kind to their dogs and buy Girl Scout cookies and generally think of themselves as good people. And from any one of us who plays fast and loose with the power of what we say.