We have the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, War on Poverty and with the recent events, it appears we can add the War on Words. It has long been understood that words create realities and most of us teach our children to be careful with their words, as there will be consequences. Yet, with the advent of the Internet, the sheer volume of information with a 24/7 news cycle and through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, we are able to access and spread information in an instant. Our generation has failed to make sense of these changes. We failed to develop a filtering system that encourages people to take a break from the bombardment of information and make sense of it -- hold it up to our values, run it by a trusted friend, pause before reacting. This listen-and-react mode must be addressed.
In decades past, we responded instead of reacting and our general tolerance for others with differing opinions seemed to be "manageable." In a way, we all adhered to an informal communication standard. Compare that to today where there is a general lack of self-control and it ignites emotions when expressed and consequently defines the worst in us. We have all witnessed the attitude of "the world be dammed, it's what I think!" and it's reminiscent of our reality when we were eight years old -- acting as children with no self-control. It's as if our thoughts, words and feelings are untethered and with the Internet as a conduit, our semblance of normalcy is becoming quite unhinged.
Yes, free speech is a right in our country and a gift -- and like many gifts, this one also requires respect, understanding and appreciation. President Barack Obama addressed the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, and stated:
I know that not all countries in this body share this understanding of the protection of free speech. [...] Yet in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: There is no speech that justifies mindless violence.
There is consensus that we must create and seek out tolerance -- tolerance of lifestyles that challenge our "normal," cultures that exists side by side in our strip malls and tolerance of words that others use to express their opinions. But instead, of valuing patience, understanding and accepting our differences, we are using our words to indulge in prejudice, hate and incite violence. I see this not only in our political discourse where common ground is no longer valued; I see it in family court where compromise is viewed as weakness; in families where doors slam shut before conversation is attempted and in countries where death is the solution to different.
Can there be a communication standard by which we all can adhere to, which encourages reverence and thoughtful discourse? Can we create a benchmark for dialog that fosters consensus without diminishment? Is it possible to communicate in such a way that strengthens our relationships? Can we find our way back to communication that leaves everyone feeling understood and respected? If we can make this happen within our homes, then we can extend it out and touch our neighbors. Eventually it will find its expression in who we choose to elect. It will only be a matter of time when we create a new standard of communication for all people in the world to aspire to. Let us not lead the world into another conflict with the War on Words. No, let us make this struggle and the ensuing violence it fosters, obsolete.