In President Obama's memorial address yesterday in Tucson, the most memorable and telling line for me was:
"At a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."
Why did the President appeal for a mere "pause"? Is that the best we can do?
Why not make our healing permanent and speak and listen with civility, even humility, so that we are truly "one nation indivisible."
Our nasty little secret, and the President knows it, is that we are an adversarial society that thrives on a culture of conflict.
Our economy and political system are rooted in competition built on our baser instincts and emotional appeals. Our legal system is all about winning. Justice is often a lucky happenstance. We place far more value on individuals and their rights (often at the expense of others) than on community and harmony. Our media and our cultural stories describe and explore conflict in detail, often bloody detail. So few of our stories are about cooperation and compassion (though the President poignantly amplified a few in his speech.)
One commentator, the late George Gerbner, described mass media as creating a "Mean World Syndrome." He pointed out that a society steeped in a brutally harsh fiction has a way of transforming that fiction into fact.
The media's millionaire political hate-mongers would be paupers if they suddenly became "healers" instead of slash-and-burn rhetorical "wounders." We are not conditioned to watch a world at peace.
In his media moment yesterday, the President played his role as healer and truth-teller. Sadly, it was only a pause — flicker of light in our darkness.
We need a strong and steady beacon. Where will it come from? What will it be?