Sentinel commentary

The mass shooting Jan. 8 that wounded 13 people and killed six others during a political event for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., has led to a national debate on the current state of political discourse and the appropriate level of civility between people of differing viewpoints and beliefs.

Giffords, who is recuperating after surgery to fix damage suffered from a gunshot wound to her head, is a member of the Democratic Party.

The alleged gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, has been reported as being partly motivated to carry out the shooting due to his holding political beliefs that run different to those of Giffords and her party.

As the country subsequently attempts to make sense of the tragedy, each of us has had to ask ourselves: "Have we forgotten what it is to be civil'"

There is no doubt that the nation has been dealing with a host of divisive cultural, economic, racial and religious issues.

Newspaper and television headlines proclaim new hot-button issues with each news cycle; we are exposed to barrages of hostile imagery daily.

From comprehensive national healthcare to the regulation of the financial industry, or the removal of birthright citizenship to gays and lesbians being able to marry, it seems as if there is no end to the amount of passionate topics over which we can carve out a position and argue.

However, as easy as it may be to allow our passions and anger to lead us down the path of bitterness and intolerance, events like the Tucson shooting remind us just how easily it can be for heated rhetoric to manifest as physical violence.

America is a democracy, and as such, there will always be disagreement between different groups.

Indeed, all of us work, socialize or are even related to people who we don't fully agree with on a variety of issues.

Sometimes, we think they're partly wrong; other times, we think they're completely wrong.

In our more heated moments, we might even want to give them some "helpful" advice on where to stick their opinions.

Even in these moments, however, we must - and should - always remember to be civil and to be humane in our interactions.

To do otherwise not only lessen us as individuals, it devalues us as a country. President Barack Obama, giving a speech at a memorial service Jan. 12 for victims of the shooting, said, "The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better - to be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, it did not, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud."

It would be naive to say or think that we can live in a society where no one ever loses their temper or says something they may later regret.

We are human; we make mistakes. However, what we can do is to commit to trying to be more respectful with each other.

We can commit to taking a moment to think before we speak. We can commit to finding areas of commonality instead of searching for ways to disagree.

If and when we disagree, we can commit to keeping those disagreements in perspective.

Frankly, we can commit to acting like reasonable adults who set a positive example to those around us.

The Families and friends of the victims of Tucson have suffered terrible losses. The six victims who died will live as symbols of inspiration to be better human beings. They are:
Aca,!AcNine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who had just been elected to the student council at her elementary school
Aca,!AcDorothy Morris, whose husband, George, remains hospitalized after being shot trying to protect her
Aca,!AcU.S. District Judge John Roll, who was named Arizona's chief federal judge in 2006 and is survived by his wife, three sons and five grandchildren
Aca,!AcPhyllis Schneck, a retired homemaker who had three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild
Aca,!AcDorwan Stoddard, who died while trying to protect his wife, Mavy, who suffered three gunshot wounds to her leg, and
Aca,!AcGabe Zimmerman, Giffords' director of community outreach, who was engaged to be married.

During his memorial speech, Obama stated, "Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath. But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that's entirely up to us."

I agree with the president's statement. It is, and always has been, up to us. So let's do the right thing. Let's be civil.