Influence … and responsibility

As everyone knows, unless you’ve been living under a rock, our country had a tragic shooting in Tuscon, Arizona on Saturday.  Representative Gabby Giffords and several others were shot outside a Safeway during a “Congressman on the Corner” rally.  Several of those shot were killed, including a nine year girl and a federal judge.

Gabby Giffords
Gabby Giffords shooting

Much of the attention has moved past the details of the shooting and gunman, Jared Loughner – to the influences and influencers behind it.  The mainstream media has anointed Sarah Palin the designate evil puppet master due to her target ridden anti-healthcare bill website graphic.  That and the vitriolic rhetoric that has become ubiquitous over the last two years have the Republican guard (excuse the pun, but I had to) spinning … physically and publicly.

Now I’m no Sarah Palin fan.  In fact, I believe her ascendancy to the political front has “dumbed down” public discourse to level not seen in decades – since probably the McCarthy witch hunt.  But that doesn’t mean I think she to responsible for this atrocity.   But I don’t think she’s blameless either.

When someone rises to a level where they have followers – by definition they have people who follow them.  With this, comes power and often wealth (however you define it).  But with this wealth and power also comes responsibility.  I suppose you can lead your herd blindly over the edge of a cliff, and it’ll ultimately be the fault of the lemmings, one can’t discount the responsibility of the influence.

Too often we only focus on the perks of power and influence, without looking at the ramification of possessing them.  In a “Perfect World,” if our leaders misused their givings we would just walk away, letting them spew their idioms to the wind, within only the earshot of the delusional.  But the last time I checked, the “Perfect World” was still way off on the horizon.

As humans we seem to gravitate towards answers to the unknown.  Where we find these answers is where the issue lies.  Too often we become products of our environment.  And our environment includes the people and messages they relay, often over and over ad nauseam.  Continued exposure to these messages, in fact any message that is continually repeated, will result in acceptance.  After all … isn’t this what the advertising industry is built on?

We could all hope that we could sit back and under informed circumstances come to rational decisions that will appropriately govern our actions.  But again, this is not the “Perfect World.”  And in the meantime, those with the followers, those with the messages … the messages our followers take as gospel – must be responsible.

While the message of this post is directed towards the events of Saturday … I think we should extrapolate, and make it ours.  If you’re reading this you probably have a group of followers.  Whether they friend you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter or just come to the parties you throw in your living room – they listen to what you say.  You may not be Sarah Palin, but you still have followers.  And some of these followers may act on what you say… or what they perceive you say.

I’m sure Palin had no idea her callous ranting, verbally and graphically, would result in actions like Saturday – and I’m not saying it did, that doesn’t make it any better.  All we can do is learn from our mistakes – all of us.

Before we post or Tweet of even jump up on our soapbox in front of our children or friends … let’s think about its effects and not take for granted the influence we may have over the people who listen to us.

Because with an audience, with influence, must come responsibility.  For the actions that result from our influence are really just an extension of our own.   And are you willing to live with the consequences.


If you’re on Twitter please follow me … there’s cool stuff happening over there too @clayforsberg.


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10 thoughts on “Influence … and responsibility

  1. Interesting post, I think you are on to something, as individuals we are all on this grand stage as the great Shakespeare said. Since we’re on this stage, we have the ability to influence others on the stage. Hence, we as individual leaders must act accordingly. You never know who you might be influencing.

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  2. I agree Clay, what we say and do can have a profound influence on the behaviors of others. It’s karmic action, plain-and-simple. However, Loughner doesn’t seem the type to be influenced by Palin or the Tea Party at all. He strikes me as more of an Alex Jones, conspiracy theory kind of guy. I also imagine the bigger motivators for his behavior include his upbringing, experiences at school, lack of friends, and other environmental factors that have little to do with political rhetoric.

    Either way, your message rings loud and clear!

  3. Thanks for the comment Marc. First, let’s get past Sarah Palin for the moment. I’m not blaming her for the shootings. All I’m saying, she is a major factor in the ascendancy of the divisive conversation in the political environment at present. And no, she is not the only one. Nancy Pelosi is just as bad as she is. Sarah Palin just happens to be the one with the gun targets on her PAC’s web site with Gabby Giffords in the cross hairs. It also doesn’t help to have a television show where proudly touts her rifle.

    Do I think she can be that much of an influence to get someone to kill another human being – more than likely not. Does she contribute to a hostile dialogue, a dialogue that has become void of constructive analysis … most definitely. For example, pursuing the repeal of the health care bill when it has absolutely chance of making it through the Senate, let alone a 2/3 override vote of an inevitable presidential veto – make no sense at all. Haven’t we moved past “making a point,” a several hundred thousand dollar point at that.

    On another note. I find it intriguing that media voices of the Republican Party have decided to walk “lock step” in defense of Palin … literally drawing a line in the sand. But you don’t see the same from the leaders of the party themselves.

    Just maybe they view this tragic shooting an opportunity to move past rhetoric to collaborative solutions.

    Makes me think, as I have always assumed – the far right movement, the Tea Party, isn’t even truly endorsed by the party it allegedly represents. But rather it’s just a fringe movement much like one that exists on the far left of the Democratic Party.

    The solutions to the problems in this country lie on neither extreme .. but rather somewhere in the middle – a middle that only be found and constructed through a joint goal of collaboration.

    1. Clay,

      I think you are missing my point. I think the media and just us regular folks tend to assign too much influence these politicians have on people. I don’t think politicians shape people as much as people shape politicians.

      Sarah Palin (and Pelosi) are not so much drivers of peoples behavior as they are representations of moods in our country. This is why the original premise of responsibility of influence is flawed.

      I think some of the media people are influential. They don’t do soundbites, they do long-winded diatribes on subjects and have the platform to convince. Politicians work in soundbites. That isn’t leading or influencing, thats trying to find the maximum number of people that agree with you.

      1. I view Sarah Palin more of a media personality than a politician.

        Also, again, I didn’t say Palin was the reason or the only influence. But she’s the face, much like a product spokesperson, of a confrontation movement.

  4. Clay,

    Are you sure that Sarah Palin is capable of influencing people in this manner?

    Or is her whole program influenced by those to whom she would sell whatever it is she is selling (her candidacy, her book, whatever). I think her ability to influence people’s actions is greatly overstated.

    She plays up the gun stuff, cause that’s her base. She was a passenger on the Tea Party bus.

    She’s a charismatic person for sure, but have you ever seen her take a stand where she tries to change people’s minds?

  5. Thanks for not disregarding my comments. At least you show more courage than those who just hit and run.

    While you may consider my characterization of those who believe in blaming others for the actions of an insane mad-man as idiots, being extreme, I’d like you to defend your position with some facts. I’m not aware of any evidence that the shooter had visited any of Palin’s Internet postings which contained the images or words that promoted the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford or any other political figure.

    I can appreciate your opinion about others opinions causing someone to do bad things… but then wouldn’t we have to include music and movies?

    Okay… perhaps I should of used the term stupid instead of idiot. People do and say stupid things, idiots have a built-in excuse.

    1. I have not said the blame behind the shootings lies in Sarah Palin’s lap. I only hold her choice of communication tactics questionable … especially for someone who has presidential aspirations.

      Also, I realize that this topic is going to bring out the polarization in all us – myself included. I can only hope that by having a civilized, non-partisan, discussion – we can get to a place beyond pre-existing views … a place where words like idiot (thanks for the retort, by the way) have no residency.

  6. While I agree with the premise that one should be responsible with their words and actions because they may influence others, ANYONE who suggests or infers that someone like Sarah Palin, or any other political influencer, is some how even partially responsible for the actions of the presumed Tuson AZ shooter, Jared Loughner, is an idiot!

    There are plenty of bad influences on TV and/or radio, in print or blogging on the Internet, but they don’t cause a sane person to commit insane actions. The true and total responsibility of why Jared Loughber allegedly attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a shooting rampage that killed six people and injured others, lies with Jared Loughber.

    Based on the many reports of Jared’s past, one can assume he has many abnormalities from the average sane person. Therefore, I doubt the absence of “toxic rhetoric” in the political landscape would of prevented the insane actions of an obviously insane person.

    I’m truly sick of people trying to play a political blame game after a tragic event like the one that unfolded during a constituent listening session being held by Rep. Gabrielle Gifford at Tuson AZ grocery store parking lot.

    One could more easily argue that many of today’s problems could be caused or accelerated by the shrinking number of people who believe in personal responsibility. Blaming others for your personal issues and expecting others to give you anything (health care, food, shelter, etc.) has led to societal decay.

    As the Micheal Jackson song “Man In The Mirror” suggests… to change the world, start with yourself.

    1. Actional, thanks for the comment. Your characterization of anyone who believes any contribution of blame should be put at the foot of Palin, Limbaugh, Beck or any other of the far right spokespeople as an idiot – is a bit extreme.

      The purpose of this post is not to place blame, but insight thought about personal responsibility for people who are in a position of influence. The events of Saturday lent themselves to appropriate timing on this issue.

      I suppose I could have done with your comment as Sarah Palin has done to her less than favorable ones on her Facebook account … and delete them. But I didn’t since your opinion is valuable in this very timely and important discourse.

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