They might be the three hardest words in the English language: "I was wrong."
Three simple syllables, but many of us find them unpronounceable. As in a Twitter critic who referred to me as "her" the other day.
"Her?" tweeted I. Whereupon, she launched into this tortured explanation of how my beard and name were not enough for her to determine my gender. "Can't a woman have a beard and be bald?" she asked.
Apparently, that codswallop was easier for her to utter than those three syllables.
And if those syllables are hard to say on a subject so insignificant, imagine how they stick to the roof of the mouth on a subject of critical concern. Like guns. We got a fresh illustration of that in our latest mass casualty event: 10 people, eight of them children, shot dead, 13 wounded at Santa Fe High School near Houston.
Along with the usual thoughts and prayers, candlelight vigils and T-shirts proclaiming "Santa Fe Strong," there came, sure enough, a cabal of firearms-fetishizing public figures eager to blame anything, anything, anything except the most obvious thing: the ready availability of guns.
Incoming NRA chief Oliver North pointed the finger at Ritalin.
Fox "News" anchor Jon Scott indicted video games.
Radio host Hugh Hewitt suggested banning trench coats.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said schools have too many doors.
Apparently, when it comes to their gun mania, that codswallop was also easier for them than those three painfully obvious syllables.
Other places, after all, have Ritalin, video games, trench coats and, yes, doors. But they don't have mass casualties on a regular basis. They even have guns, albeit guns restricted by tough laws from falling into the hands of teenagers, violent criminals, the mentally ill, the untrained and others who should not own them. So candlelight vigils are a less routine thing in Vancouver, Brisbane or Berlin. You're unlikely to see a T-shirt declaring "Sao Paulo Strong."
It's different here in the land of guns at all times for all people, everywhere. And while a willingness to question your premise is Critical Thinking 101, that particular premise is regarded as sacred and inviolable by far too many of us. Question video games and trench coats? Sure. Question doors? Why not? Question whether a disaffected 17-year-old should find it easy to lay hands on a weapon of mass destruction? How dare you?
But maybe a change is gonna come. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who just a few weeks ago blamed gun violence on godless hearts, said after this latest tragedy that "we need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families." Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said on Facebook that he has "hit rock bottom" on the failure to enact gun control legislation.
That such heresy is being spoken in Texas might -- might -- be a sign more of us are slowly moving closer to saying those three words, to accepting the obvious. But the slowness itself feels like a betrayal.
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" A Navy lieutenant -- later, U.S. senator and secretary of state -- famously asked that while testifying before a congressional committee in 1971. This was when everyone knew the Vietnam War was a tragic mistake but those in power would not concede it. John Kerry's words got to the crux of what it means when innocent people die because other people cannot bring themselves to admit that they are wrong.
How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? We face a question even more damning.
How do you ask a child?
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.