Public speech: You are responsible for the actions of your followers.

Speech comes with consequences. Each time a tragedy occurs, it is easy to trace the public speech made by leaders that led to the tragedy. Yet, we continue to tolerate extreme political speech in the public sphere.

We cannot continue to disavow the consequences of our spiraling political discourse when the consequences continue to be obvious and destructive. It’s time that leaders who make extreme comments take responsibility for their followers who are influenced by their speech.

It’s not only mental illness

Often, after a tragedy occurs, much of the reaction is that the murderer was crazy or not right in the head. We blame the mental illness only, but not the discourse and atmosphere that helped instigate the murderer. After the Gabrielle Giffords was shot, one response to Sarah Palin’s shameful target ad was “about a lone nutjob who doesn’t value human life.” That’s the exact wrong response.

Not to trivialize; but when my family would take long car trips, I’d enjoy poking my sister repeatedly until she’d crack and scream “STOP POKING ME” which would scare the crap out of my parents. Rightfully, my parents would yell at my sister for screaming and me for egging her on. By analogy, in today’s society, we’re only holding the perpetrator who is doing the screaming, and not the bratty kid brother who is creating the stressful situation.

So either we don’t care about reducing shootings, or we don’t actually believe the diagnosis.

In the ultimate hypocrisy, pundits blame murderer’s mental illness when tragedy occurs, but we continue to downplay mental health as a funding priority. If we honestly believed that this was purely a mental health issue, shouldn’t we fund mental healthcare? So either we don’t care about reducing shootings, or we don’t actually believe the diagnosis.

Guns Guns Guns

Every time a mass shooting occurs, the issue of guns comes up. The first argument is usually mental illness (see above!). Once that’s disavowed, the discussion usually reverts to a discussion on responsible gun ownership.

Many gun owners will point out that the problem is not the general availability of guns, but irresponsible gun ownership. Yet, irresponsible gun ownership keeps occurring. If the issue is irresponsible gun ownership, then we’re doing a terrible job of ensuring responsible gun ownership.

If you are a gun owner, and brush this issue off as one of responsible gun ownership, then you have the responsibility to ensure that other gun owners are being responsible with their guns. And each time that a person uses a gun that was improperly stored or sold to commit a horrible act, the community of gun owners must take ownership.

Left vs Right, we’re all to blame

A contributing factor to our spiraling political discourse is that we continue to take a tribal mentality in the way we watch our news, vote at the ballot box, and view our political institutions. Our political views have become part of our identity.

Once your politics are part of your identity, any slight to your political views become a slight to you. Thus any hyperboble and any tactic becomes justified in the name of the cause — because it’s meant to prevent damage to your identity.

If you don’t deviate from the viewpoints of your preferred political party, then you’re part of the problem.

If you vote straight Democrat or straight Republican, then you’re part of the problem. If you only watch MSNBC or only watch Fox News and declare the other hopeless biased, you’re part of the problem. If you don’t deviate from the viewpoints of your preferred political party, then you’re part of the problem.

Politicians have a duty to be fiercely moderate and to take and explain reasoned positions. To take up an extreme position will lead to extreme consequences. If you fire up the tea party base, don’t be angry when you get burned.

What can we do?

First, we should not consume media that takes a single sided point of view or that does not engender reasonableness in public discourse. A real problem is that, like sex, polarized and outrageous headlines make money for their creators — often much more than their more nuanced alternatives. So by reducing eyeballs for extreme views, more reasonable discourse might grow.

Second, do not vote for politicians that espouse extreme viewpoints or that pander to their base. Vote for candidates based both on their character, their integrity, and their point of view.

Third, use social media responsibly. Do not give in to one sided posts and posts that are divisive. Don’t click the like or don’t like button to easily. Don’t fall in to easy arguments on social media. Post responsible articles

Take responsibility for your political speech and the speech that you consume.