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How to React to a Shooting | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

How to React to a Shooting

Bobby Kennedy’s impromptu speech announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. is the best impromptu speech I’ve seen. I show this video to every impromptu speech class I lead.

Setting for the speech: Kennedy was on a campaign stop in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968.  He was scheduled to speak to a minority audience, and local police asked him to cancel his speech after the assassination because they feared a riot.  Kennedy refused.  You will hear when he learns the audience does not know King has been shot. Kennedy’s speech prevented the feared riot.:

What makes Kennedy’s response great?

  1. Tell the bad news. He told what was known. Kennedy did not blame or suggest suspects.
  2. Acknowledge the horror. He acknowledged the grief and shock his audience felt upon hearing the news.
  3. Share personal experience. He shared his experiences and response 5 years earlier to his brother’s assassination.
  4. Draw on education and training. Classically educated, Kennedy quoted the play Agamemnon, by the Greek tragedian, Aeschylus:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

Kennedy’s speech concludes with a call to wisdom – to understanding.

Instead of a call to action.  Let law enforcement find who committed the crime, why they did it, and use that knowledge to better prevent future shootings.

As one out of many in the general public, my job is the same as Kennedy’s audience.

  • Remember that our Declaration of Independence declares our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We all have those rights – not just our friends but our enemies.
  • Disagree with others on matters of substance but honor their dignity.
  • Remind our friends and others of the gift of human dignity.  Tragedies happen when we forget inalienable rights and human dignity.

Tragedies and senseless shootings continue. Two months after this speech, Robert Kennedy was assassinated. His speech on reacting to violence can still teach and inspire us today.

I doubt I’ll ever personally stop a shooter. Nevertheless, if I heed Kennedy’s call to wisdom, perhaps I can help build a stronger culture of respect for others.

When the temperature in the cooking pot lowers, there’s less chance of a boil over. Will you join me?


2 Responses to “How to React to a Shooting”

  1. Nibby Priest January 9, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    What appropriate words for us all this morning Mary. Thank you very much.

  2. April Hawkins January 9, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    Good post and good reminder.

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