The Worst Communicator of 2012 Award Goes To..

Welcome back!
A belated happy New Year to all of you! I took some down time over Christmas and am now back in the blogosphere. Laura and I, along with our daughter, Caroline, have just emerged from a Downton Abbey video marathon and came up for air in time to begin the third season. I have to admit I'm totally hooked, and didn't really expect to be. How about you? Have you fallen victim to it too? It's okay, I believe there's some kind of a shot for it. Speaking of which, I got the flu shot after friends were sharing horror stories of their bouts with it. So here's hoping it works. It's still not too late!]
We also caught up on some movies I've wanted to see, including Argo (great suspense, well executed, and we'll forgive the downplaying of Canada's role in the freeing of the hostages), Lincoln (inspiring), Les Misérables (powerful), and Zero Dark Thirty (rivetingly intense). All well done in their own way.
The 2012 Presidential Inauguration
We will be attending the Presidential Inauguration next week. Although we were invited to be volunteers, Laura and I have decided to just be spectators this year, and will be watching it all from the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue. Our son, Brendan, 22, is a volunteer at the Inaugural Ball. There's something about seeing your son in a tux that makes me realize that he's really grown up...... It's a lot of fun and craziness, no matter what - with lots of great people to meet. Canada's Ambassador, Gary Doer does such a great job of hosting such events, and will no doubt do a super job this year.
'The Worst Communicator of 2012 Award' Goes to....
As we are now into awards season, it's time to name the Worst Communicator of 2012 Award. Drum roll please! The winner is...a group award...goes to.....
The Gun Lobby - including the NRA's Executive V.P. Wayne Lapierre ('armed security in every school'), the Gun Owners of America and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones ('1776 will commence again'). who have had a field day in response to the Sandy Hook elementary school, Newtown massacre.
Piers Morgan and Alex Jones
Without any attempt to build understanding of their position, they have adopted an intemperate 'take no prisoners' approach to public discourse on this matter. It's a classic 'preach to the converted, angrily talk over anyone who holds another opinion, strategy in communications. They may have confidence that with their carefully targeted political smear campaigns it can still work in upcoming election campaigns. They could be right, but they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

President Obama Unveils his Gun Initiatives
President Obama's carefully orchestrated unveiling today of his legislative push to strengthen gun laws, including twenty three executive actions, came on the heels of this public relations disaster by the gun lobby since the nightmare at Newtown. The Obama Administration is pursuing a full-court press to build support for it, no doubt emboldened by the tone-deaf approach of gun lobby advocates.

But that brings up a broader question about how our society deals with divisive issues:

What has gone Wrong with Public Discourse?
1. Our society no longer debates or discusses issues. Instead, we have fallen deeply into a whole other approach to public policy, that is, two sides jump into their opposing fox holes and start throwing grenades at each other. Now it takes place more and more in the blogosphere and Twitterverse at least as much as in the traditional media. They seem to have figured out that they don't have to persuade anybody to their side. Instead, they have come to believe that emotionally connecting with your base leads to supporters and money.
2. Facts get in the way of opinions. The rise of conspiracy theorists - always out there, but given rocket fuel after 9/11, now drives incredible traffic to web sites that feature the ravers, the conspiracy theorists and the crazies who provide a home for their fears, fallacies and hallucinations. Those conspiracy theorists are particularly strong among young people, but can be found in every generation, from every walk of life. They actually believe that there are sophisticated plotters deep in government and corporations who secretly control everything - including the traditional media. Facts will not deter them and argument will not weary them.
3. Moderation is a sign of weakness. As we saw in the 2012 elections, there is very little room for the middle ground. You are either 'left' or 'right'. You're either all in or all out. That is a major reason why we don't have true public discourse.
4. People choose not to listen. Do you notice how often panel shows and talk shows dissolve into one or more 'guests' talking over the other? They have their talking points. They don't need to listen, and, frankly, don't particularly want to. Besides, if they were to silently listen, they'd be  wasting a golden opportunity to drive your message, right? Click on the 'Alex Jones' link above for proof.
5. Intolerance will set you free. When I was growing up, it was seen as a positive character trait to not only tolerate - but attempt to understand- opposing points of view. Well, that is so 'yesterday'! You see it on the left, and you see it on the right. Alex Jones's mocking imitation of Piers Morgan is an excellent example of that. [Again check on the Alex Jones link above.]

Tips on what to do if arguing with an intolerant person? If you can't walk away, don't want to, or in a panel discussion with an 'angry bird'....
1. Stay cool. They love it when you get angry. Besides, you'll look unhinged on YouTube®'.
2. Listen more than you speak. Listen for the key premises behind their arguments. For example, those who are dead set against any restrictions on gun ownership. Questions might include: 'So you believe that all rights are unlimited?' or 'Do you believe in any restrictions to the type of firearms a private citizen can own? If so, what ones?' Usually, angry people are incredibly contradictory and their arguments collapse before them. [Of course, what they have learned to do is switch the subject, or 'scattergun' their attack points all over the place.]
3. Paraphrase what they say, and try to get agreement that it is, in fact, what they are saying. Put it into your own words, and feed it back to them. "If I understand you correctly, what you're saying is that rights have no limits, is that true?" Most will balk if they think it makes them sound totally looney, so they will try to prevaricate or attack. Calmly, but firmly ask them if it is true. And if not, what is inaccurate about it?
4. Summarize the points of agreement and disagreement at the end of the conversation. This is a constructive effort that will  be in painful contrast to the 'take no prisoners' approach of the other person. The audience will note that to your benefit.
5. Maintain an even and reasonable tone throughout the dialogue or debate. Most people get so emotional that they come across as unbalanced and people you mostly want to stay away from, let alone agree with.

Until next time.....

1 comment:

  1. Frankly, I thought 'Lincoln' was extremely boring. Apart from Daniel Day-Lewis' uncanny performance, it was a bunch of speeches and platitudes. You had to be American to really like it.

    I think Justin Trudeau deserves the "Worst Communicator" award. He is so vapid.