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Put away your verbal scattergunsPosted Sunday, January 9, 2011, at 9:54 AM
A few months ago, I started enforcing our posting policy more strictly, attempting to weed out more comments that include personal attacks or insults and unverifiable information that could be unfairly damaging to individuals or businesses. I can't claim to have been perfect, but I have made an effort.
But I've been bothered for some time about a kind of comment I've tended to allow: Attacks on opposing ideologies -- or more specifically, the adherents of opposing ideologies.
"You liberals are all [something horrible]."
"You conservatives always [something terrible]."
These comments come from both/all sides and are directed at various groups and sets of beliefs.
When someone uses insulting language toward a whole group, everyone who identifies with that group feels insulted -- and is likely to respond in kind. Comments like that have the same effect as personal insults, which is to poison the conversation with resentment and revenge, only it has a scattergun effect, hitting more people with each shot, spreading ill-will farther, faster.
The shooting in Tucson yesterday seems to present an opportunity to do something about our own practices. It's a wake-up call. If vitriolic political speech had anything to do with the bloodbath in Tucson, then responding to the situation with more vitriolic speech seems like a bad idea. A very bad idea.
We still know very little about the shooter and his motives, but even if there was no political factor in his calculations, we can still reform our own speech, strive for more moderation and use a more respectful tone when addressing individuals and groups with whom we disagree.
The Marshall Democrat-News invites readers to share their views and questions on any issue. Open discussions are often useful and enlightening. Criticism is acceptable as an important part of public conversations, but we expect everyone to treat others with respect. Experience suggests it is best not to post comments while angry. We reserve the right to delete comments that we think include personal attacks, are disrespectful, threatening, obscene or in other ways objectionable. Anyone who repeatedly violates this policy will be banned from participating in our forums.
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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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