I thought it might be helpful to take a short look at Thich Nhat Hanh's version of the fifth precept, which is generally translated as not giving over taking intoxicants.
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.
I have always liked how specific he is here, even if I don't personally follow it to the letter. What's beautiful about Thay's take on this precept is how very clear he sees the interaction between individuals and the social environment around them. In fact, he's really pointing out that popular culture, conversations, foods, and the rest are flowing through all of us to the degree that we ingest them.
Part of the reason I have been so adamant about commenting on the context of the Arizona shooting, and others, is that I can feel it's impact on my life. I can feel how totally not immune I am from the nasty accusations, the denials of responsibility, and the violence of the actual events. It's very palpable, and I live 2000 miles away from the site of the event in question.
When politicians, pundits, and other public persons defend hate speech and violent rhetoric, there's a ripple effect that makes it that much more difficult for truth and peacefulness to blossom.
When politicians, pundits, and other public figures base their visions of the world on personal attacks towards those they oppose, this makes it that much more likely that truthful and reasonable debate will be ignored and tossed aside.
When politicians, pundits, and other public figures turn those they oppose into evil enemies that must be defeated at all costs, then it's that much more likely people will believe that violence is the answer for our collective challenges.
When acts of violence are separated from the context from which they sprung, it makes it that much more likely that the toxins of said context will not be addressed.
When everywhere you turn, someone is taking violent events and turning them into money making sensationalism, it makes it that much harder to uphold any vow to not give or take intoxicants.
When people are more interested in defending freedom of speech than examining the impact of that speech, it makes it that much more challenging to practice and spread respectful, compassionate speech.
The culture around us moves within each of us. When this is forgotten, transformation and liberation are that much more unlikely.