Jibber Jabber – When Words Go Wrong


Chad T. Jones, Public Affairs Officer

Last week I promised to take umbrage with Jeff Van Gundy saying Steph Curry and Kevin Durant were the best duo in NBA history.

I’d spent a little bit of time each day prepping my case.

My brain was working in overdrive as late as my Wednesday morning commute. Then I flipped the radio to a news station and heard someone shot up the Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.

Politics aside, this has me shook a bit.

My guess is most of the people in our region have been to Old Town. My cousin lives right across from the field where the shooting took place. And even if someone hadn’t visited the city across the Potomac from D.C., everyone has been to a practice of some sort.

I’ve been to about 30 practices since May.

Young, old; Republican, Democrat or Independent; Anglo, African, Indian or Dutch — nobody goes to a practice thinking they are going to get shot at.

They worry about getting better, bonding with teammates, and avoiding running a lap or knocking out some pushups for a mistake.

Now we have this.

I’m not going to get into the gun debate, or the debate on whether or not this is terrorism, or any other debate for that matter.

Instead, I’m going to address the nature of debate in our country. Years of anyone on any side of any debate being characterized as the worst person ever simply for disagreeing has set us up for incidents like Wednesday’s shooting.

That doesn’t mean the shooter’s not culpable. It means the vitriol in our daily rhetoric is making it easier, or more acceptable in some people’s minds, to go to extremes to make a point.

You see it on college campuses when rioters go nuts because they do not like a speaker at the school. You see it in the wacko who, spurred by fake news, drove from North Carolina to D.C. to shoot up a pizzeria that was supposedly a front for a sex slave ring operated by Hillary Clinton.

And now, someone is shooting up a morning baseball practice.

It is time to realize the constant barrage of insults, talking loud without listening, close-mindedness and scoring issues based on whatever side gets in the biggest burn are taking a toll on behavior.

And I’m not just talking about those who are unstable. I’m talking about you and me.

I know I’ve gone overboard on Facebook, and that has carried over to my daily life. Rational people dumped lifelong friends over the last election, so imagine how they are treating people they don’t know.

“Words matter” is a popular phrase around public affairs circles. It is usually used to remind practitioners to be more precise with their language. In public affairs, using the wrong word can have significant consequences: poor publicity, missed opportunities and hurt feelings.

In life, unfiltered words used recklessly and with a constant, global reach also have significant consequences — most of them graver than a tarnished reputation or hurt feelings.

They can lead to bigotry, hate, violence and a fractured society where being right is more important than taking stock in what we have in common or doing right.

If you have comments on this, contact me at chad.t.jones.civ@mail.mil.

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