On April 25th, a Sunday in 1999, Al Gore addressed the grieving families of the numerous victims of the Columbine High School massacre. This worst of all shootings ever to happen on American soil had occurred just five days previous. While the shocked nation looked on, Gore attempted to make sense of a senseless act, and bring solace to a community wild with grief and confusion. Gore’s first words to the assembled crowd were simple and straightforward: “Nothing I can say to you can bring you comfort.” This was a very powerful use of an intricate rhetoric, for Gore went on to call on a Higher Authority than himself, the Lord God, as the only Source able to provide the kind of comfort needed in such a terrible crisis. Given the incomprehensible events of the massacre, this was an emotionally sensitive as well as logical stance.
If you were to put yourself in the place of the friends and family of the victims, Gore’s position becomes ever clearer. If Al Gore had told the audience that he understood their pain or that he knew how to help them, the families would naturally have concluded, “Al Gore didn’t lose anyone to the shootings so how could he possibly understand how we feel or give us counsel and comfort?” The resulting disbelief within the survivors would have created an audience full of bad will and unwilling to listen. Yet when Al Gore said he couldn’t help them, he was acknowledging the fact that they were going through something so incredibly hard, and so profoundly unique, that the only comfort his speech might bring was to point them to “the voice that addresses our depths of being.” This humble, ethical approach allows the grieving to understand that while Gore himself could not ease their hurt, there was a Source he knew of which they could turn to. This allowed the audience to try and get whatever they could out of his message.
Throughout the address, Gore states many religious and scriptural verses ranging...