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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Civil dialogue

Hero Leo Johnson

Were it not for the heroic intervention of security guard Leo Johnson, wounded while stopping a shooter invading the Family Research Council, some of my good friends and colleagues might be gone today, leaving us all wondering what kind of mindset motivates a gunman to kill those whose faith contradicts his ideology. Before shooting Johnson, the gunman reportedly lambasted the work of the Family Research Council, which advances faith-based perspectives regarding sex and marriage.
The violently intolerant online comments posted beneath a USA Today article about the shooting suggests that the only difference between many Americans and the gunman is the actual use of a physical weapon. The hatred and mindsets appear identical, and the words of the commenters are virtual bullets.
We Americans desperately need reeducation in civil dialogue. Issue advocates must learn to attack ideas, not opponents. Consumers and critics should hold the entertainment industry accountable for how television, movies and music contribute to intolerance and violence. Online comment editors should crack down on invective. Educators should first examine their own illiberal biases and then teach students how to fairly and objectively examine both sides of issues. Voters should punish at the polls politicians who rely on vile attacks.
Until we relearn how to respectfully and rationally debate our ideas and beliefs, free speech and freedom of religion in America increasingly will be replaced by intimidation, coercion and violence.

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