What's wrong with being a little bit more humble in our orientation?
Of course, I grant the many premises of my conservative friends and colleagues regarding the murderous rampage in Tucson, and the absurdity of blaming it on the right. Responding to those charges was and is a discussion well worth having.
But now what? So what? I've long been taught - and taught my kids - that no matter where the criticism is coming from or what the motives of the source, the first question we ought to ask ourselves is: "Is there any truth to it?"
Forget the left - there are some conservative politicians, commentators and talk-show hosts I can't listen to because I find them to be too snide, arrogant or condescending.
Even where the criticism that conservatives experience isn't fair at all, shouldn't we be at least willing to humbly put our own pride aside if doing so is genuinely helpful to the national debate and interests?
For instance, I think it would have been wonderfully gracious of Sarah Palin to have said, during her recent high-profile interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity: "You know, depicting a political target in gun crosshairs is inappropriate. No more." (Yes, I'm well aware the practice did not originate with her.) Or, "I had no idea where the term ‘blood libel' came from. Now I do, and I'm so sorry for using it and hurting certain people."
But it was not to be.
Well, this is not about Palin anyway. It's not, ultimately, even about our rhetoric. It's about all of us. I know that in the heat of any debate, and I've been in plenty, one wants so much to be right. But really, are any of us that important? I fear that so many of today's public figures have a greater sense of self-importance than previous generations. That's coupled with a bigger "prize" to be won in controlling Washington, since it's grown into such an enormous power center.
And that makes for a volatile mix.
David Brooks beautifully wrote in a recent New York Times column about the national debate swirling over the Tucson murders: "The problem is that over the past 40 years or so, we have gone from a culture that reminds people of their own limitations to a culture that encourages people to think highly of themselves. ... Over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness."
Humility, that sensibility about one's own limitations and failings, is one of the things that made Ronald Reagan so different, and so successful, among recent presidents. He knew what he believed, but there was a sense from him that he was just a bit player in a drama far more important than himself. In the grand scheme of things, he was right. For him to be condescending or arrogant? I can't think of it.
Now, I'm not suggesting we never offend others, particularly if truth is a casualty on that course. I appreciate vigorous debate, and the political stakes are indeed high. I just think there are higher stakes still. It seems to me that a lot of the problems of our current public discourse could be minimized if we just didn't consider ourselves more highly than we ought, to paraphrase Scripture. And if we engage in a little humility and commit ourselves do doing what's right, even when we are the only ones doing it or we have the "right" to do otherwise.
Look, I need to preach to myself here. As someone who has made a certain number of enemies in her life -- and no, I'm not just talking about my kids -- a particular Scripture passage recently struck me. Proverbs16:7 says: "When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him."
There is simply wisdom in humility.
Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting Is Hurting our Kids -- And What to do About It". He columns are distributed by Scripps Howard News Service. Hart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.