January 12th, 2011
12:15 PM ET

Letters to the President: #723 'The healing power of listening'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama is going to Arizona in the wake of the weekend’s tragic shooting at a congressional rally.

Dear Mr. President,

I hope your visit to Arizona goes well today. A lot of people envy presidents for their power and prestige, but I’m not among them. I’ve seen how tough trips like this can be on even the strongest soul.

The public at large, of course, is eager to hear what you will have to say, but on the many occasions when I have met with folks closely affected by tragedies I have often found that it is how you listen when you are alone with them that matters most. Sometimes they want to talk about what happened. Sometimes they want to tell you about the people who were lost. Sometimes they want to talk about something that seemingly has nothing to do with the events at hand - a favorite pet, a good restaurant, some place they went on vacation years ago.

But listening to it all matters.

Imagine what it would have meant to you some years ago if a family member were caught in a national calamity to have the president simply sit with you for a moment, to hold your hand on behalf of the nation, and be a living, breathing symbol of all the people in our land who share your grief.

There are only rare occasions in civilian life that command this particular fulfillment of duty from a president, and personally I don’t think that any of you ever really get used to it. But remember, as foreign as it may feel, it is even more so for the poor families who have lost someone. Just days ago they were doing their jobs, sharing family dinners, going for walks and not imagining the life-changing events that would come to their door - never imagining either that you would come calling with words of sympathy and a nation’s sadness.

Yet that is happening. I would not be surprised if some of them want to talk. And for all the pressing business that attends each president all the time, on this day I suspect there is nothing more important than for you to listen.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Mary Oliver New Orleans

    I would like to say thank you to you Mr.Foreman for the manner in which you always seem to say exactly what needs to be said. I do not know if our president reads each letter but I like to believe that someone on his staff does and that copies are made for when he can read them. For me and I am sure many others your written thoughts make sense to some of the senseless happening within the world today..please continue those letters and my prayers are for you and your family..M.Oliveri..New Orleans,La.

    January 14, 2011 at 4:15 am |
  2. kathy

    I have voted for Democrats and Republicans, so this is not about a particular President – all of them.
    Are there any other countries where the elected official is so openly criticized every time they speak in public? If so, which countries.
    If not, how is this controlled.
    Seems to me that we take away from our credibiltiy as a world leader by immediately judging – like grading – every time our President talks.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  3. Bill

    I just completed watching the memorial service and all the speeches by those in attendance. I found the President's speech not only uplifting but from the heart of a good caring man, I think those who choose to comment negativity about his speech need to give the President a break, it seems he can't win no matter what he does or how he does something there is someone out there who has to find fault.

    January 13, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  4. Charles

    I think our President was amazing tonight. The cheers in the crowd is the true indication that he brought a since of healing to that community.
    It is very counterproductive for you journalist to attempt to suggest that a memorial is supposed to have quiet, sad tone. In fact it is appropriate to celebrate in these times; think of the good that can come from this tragedy. Celebration through tears is remarkable good for the soul.
    Journalist your views at the moment do not matter, what matters is what support and inspiration that the family of these victims have moving forward, that’s what our President delivered tonight.

    January 12, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  5. Stacy gemma

    Our country forgets what it takes to heal. Not everyone lived through all the people who died through 911. We need someone to make us feel better. This not a venue for politics but a time for healing.

    January 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  6. Marlik

    Am just wondering why the media is not refering to this AZ shooter as a terrorist & also if US rep from MN Keith Ellison was to post this cross to conservative districts including sarah palins though she's not running for office & months later a conservative member of congress or palin herself get shot...would the right be saying what they saying that shooter is just a mad troubled man. the right & the media stop fueling this hate seeking missiles people..a nation that prays 2gether will rise 2gether

    January 12, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  7. Chromosome Party

    The Chromosome Party, representing the youth of this nation, find it extremely hard to find sympathy for whats happened in Arizona. The only truly response one should have, if following the actions of our government, is that this U.S. government has whats its coming to them. Loughner represents the voice that can not be herd, a voice screaming revolution by the youth of this nation! lets not forget the past of the HYPOCRITICAL elders who have left us with a history to learn in our schools, from low-level to universities, about the violence of Capitalism and Democracy and the supposed truth to its happiness.
    Nixon- watergate
    Weatherman Underground
    U.S invaded Vietnam
    U.s invaded Middle East

    all respect is lost for this country when citizens are forced to support and establishment not for the people!

    peace and prosperity The Chromosome Party

    January 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  8. Joseph Williams

    Media Responsibility...?

    It is sophomoric for Sarah Palin to assert that, "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own; they begin and end with the criminals who commit them.”

    While this at times may be true, (indeed, gunman Jared Lee Loughner appears to have been apolitical in his motivations), criminal behavior often does not unfold in a media vacuum. Irrational minds, capable of – yes, "criminality" steadily 'soak up' gobs of media chatter filling every corner of the airwaves, books and other channels for the 'expression of ideas’.

    I uphold the rightful – I would even say sacred privilege of free speech. Indeed, it led John Kennedy to inspire our nation to 'land a man on the moon' little more than 20 years after it enabled Hitler to 'bring the world to the brink of genocide'. That's the power of speech… And anyone privileged to wield such power must do so responsibly. To absolve oneself from the inherent responsibility which comes with such power is morally reprehensible.

    January 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  9. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    It's unfortunate circumstances these families will meet the President personally and I pray this will help uplift their spirit.

    January 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  10. Ronnie

    Wise words, Tom

    January 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm |