(On 1.15.11, I posted my 4th piece for this blog. It was about the shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords in Tucson, AZ. I believed that all of the negative language used by politicians and media had led to the shooting by creating a climate of verbal violence. I introduced the piece with a quotation from the Zohar about the effects of our words. It seems time to restate the same caveat, in the light of both the shooting of a Republican by a “liberal” and the violent accusations used in social media to denounce “liberals” in general and Bernie Sanders in particular. We must learn to recognize — and perhaps fear — the consequences of the words we use.)

The Zohar says:

Zohar Tucson quote
Come, see:
Every word that comes from a person’s mouth,
rises and awakens a response from Above,
either for good or for bad. [1]

This was certainly on my mind…after the shootings in Tucson in 2011 and the shootings in Virginia two days ago. Did the negative language used by politicians, especially in the media, contribute or even create this awful event? Was one particular politician to blame, above all others?

A direct statistical correlation might not be easy to demonstrate. But the Zohar — nothing if not a reliable spiritual source for almost 1000 years — tells us that our words do, in fact, have effects — often unintentional and unexpected. So, even if we can’t empirically demonstrate a connection between negative words and negative actions, I think we have to assume that it’s there, nevertheless. Our greatest traditions and teachers tell us that this is so.

These days, would we dare have soapboxes and debates in Union Square (NYC)? I think it would be too dangerous. Street-fighting — personal insults, hysterical misrepresentations, veiled or overt personal threats, etc. — has replaced fair, impersonal, even if impassioned debate about the issues themselves and about the principles underlying different viewpoints.

We’re becoming a country that no longer knows how to tolerate dissent. Worse — we’re demonstrating to a new generation that there’s no such thing as reasoned debate among adults. They’re growing up thinking that some of our worst behavior is the norm, and that it’ll be expected of them when they enter the verbal arena in a few short years.

They deserve better from us.

We have to draw from this that there’s a better way to argue and debate. But we have to look at ourselves individually as much, if not more, than we look at the politicians and “pundits.” When we discuss a viewpoint or a person with which/whom we disagree, do we do so without personal insults (stupid, moronic, cretin, traitor, etc.)?

We have to show politicians and pundits that this negative language doesn’t work anymore.

We can start by changing the way we ourselves speak and write.

As American poet Marianne Moore wrote:
“There never was a war that was

not inward; I must
fight till I have conquered in myself what
causes war…” [2]

The Zohar teaches us that our words create effects.

The Zohar might strictly mean that it’s a “cosmic law” that all of our words produce a response directly on ourselves.

I’ve certainly heard dangerous words from the political Right. But I’ve sometimes heard dangerous words from the political Left, too. It’s not about disagreeing. It’s about when disagreement reaches a level of personal invective and threat.

We might discount doers of violence as over-reacting; “emotionally disturbed.” If we do, we are then agreeing that they are responding to the stresses they feel around them, even if the things they need to filter between the outer and inner, between the personal and the environmental, are not present, or are damaged, or are not fully developed. It should make us even more careful about what we say, to know that there are people who will take our words far more seriously than we take them ourselves.

My point in this essay is that our words also have an effect on everyone and everything around us — an effect we can’t control and might often not want. The response that we “awaken” — our “karma,” as it were — then becomes not only about the immediate effect of our words, but also about the effect they have on all of Creation everywhere.

None of us should be contributing more violence into an atmosphere already saturated with it. As a “Progressive,” I feel especially responsible not to do so.

Let us use our words to bring peace.


[1] Zohar; Soncino edition; vol. 3, p. 144

[2] Moore, Marianne; In Distrust of Merits (poem; 1944)