Words

By Ed Stein

I’ve been having a lively conversation with one of the readers of this site about, among other things, the meaning of words. As many others have in the past, he has predicted that if I don’t like what he has to say, I will “censor” his postings, as have the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post previously. This is one of those statements, repeated many times over the years by other readers, that rankles me. Censorship applies only to governments or their agencies. A private enterprise such as a newspaper or, me, for that matter, cannot by definition censor. I set the rules for my website, and for what can be posted. I prefer a civil discussion, and when a reader veers into the all-too-common practice of name-calling in lieu of actual argument (or worse, an obscenity-laden tirade), I make a judgement about the worth of the comment, and occasionally kill a reader’s posting. I generally do this only after warning the commenter first. This is not censorship. If someone persists in breaking my rules, I have every right and reason to boot him (or her) off my site.

Why is this seemingly trivial argument important? Because words have power. Words lead to action, and actions have consequences.. We have seen in the last year that the misuse of language–the deliberate and repeated misstatements of the content of the health care overhaul, including the infamous “death panel” lie, and the overheated rhetoric of the last couple of weeks, have led to threats and acts of violence against members of Congress.

During the debate last week, members of the minority party frequently launched into such hyperbolic rhetoric it was hard to believe the words were coming from our elected leaders. Rep. Devin Nunes may have topped them all when he said that Democrats “finally lay the cornerstone of their socialist utopia on the backs of the American people.” This sentiment was echoed, perhaps not as vividly, by others during the debate, often to the applause and cheers of Republicans on the House floor. It was an ugly, appalling spectacle. Death threats against Congressmen who voted for the legislation followed, along with bricks thrown through Congressional office windows.

Now, of course, Republicans whose words inflamed citizens opposed to the bill are distancing themselves from the consequences of their irresponsible rhetoric. There’s a whole lot of “Who me? Why, I never dreamed. . .” going on, and, of course, the traditional, cynical ”Democrats are trying to exploit…”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not one I normally accuse of eloquence, had a perfect pitch response. While saying that she doesn’t “subscribe to the fact that these acts of vandalism sprang from any words of my colleagues,” she added, “I believe words have power. they weigh a ton. And they are received differently by people depending on their, shall we say, emotional state, and we have to take responsibility for words that are said that we do not reject.” She concluded, “We have to. . .understand our leadership role, the responsibility we have to be an example in how we express our differences and understand the impact our words have on others.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

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