Perhaps the biggest change in human discourse I have seen over the years, is the current lack of civility in the public dialogue. I sometimes feel that people aren’t working to solve problems, they’re just trying to win.
In one of the most emotional confrontations of our time, the abortion issue, people go out of their way to demonize each other and make over-the-top claims like: “We won’t negotiate with Evil!” and “They are walking over poor and down-trodden women to fulfill their personal agendas.”
Really? That kind of talk is merely playing to the base. I doubt if such rhetoric ever changed one single mind. What if both sides sat down at a table and tried to work out a solution , even a gradual solution, that both sides could live with? Isn’t even a step or two preferable to no forward movement at all? Won’t you at least try?
In the political arena, it gets worse. I have given up on political advertising completely. They should save the millions they waste on it and give that to people that could use it. I say this because:
1. All political advertising is negative. They don’t tell me about the strengths and advantages of their people and plans, they tell me what’s wrong with the people and plans on the other side. Look at the “big” issues they got us wound up about this year: Birth certificates? A candidate’s tax rate? Bad behavior and tempest-in-a-teapot scandals? Where are the plans to resolve the issues I worry about: The economy, jobs, war(s) and potential war(s), terrorism, a crumbling infrastructure, sub-standard schools, and a steadily dimming future for my grandchildren?
And by the way, I’d rather know what safeguards I have for survival during my senior years than who said or did something stupid in a bar or hotel room.
Many years ago, I worked for a successful business executive who gave me four bits of communications insight:
1. “Get them all excited about the mice, and you can sneak the elephants by them.”
2. “If they don’t ask you the question you want, pretend they did, and answer it.”
3. “Every morning the Lord gives you a loaded six gun to get you through the day. If you waste your bullets plinking at rabbits, you’ll have nothing left when the bears come.”
4. All exposition is “View with Pride,” or “Point with Alarm.” When your record is on the table, “Point with Pride.” When their record is on the table, “View with Alarm.”
2. They all lie. In addition to being negative, the ads on both sides contain untruths ranging from the trivial to the extreme. They exaggerate failures, minimize accomplishments, and take things out of context.
I just read a piece about a New York theater critic who saw a show and called it a “Staggering disappointment!” Later that week, he saw his name and review quoted in an advertisement for the show. It read simply: “Staggering…!”
What’s the answer? Once again, we go back to basics: Respect the rights of other people to feel as they do (America was built on that), be positive, have a plan and be prepared to explain it. Tell the truth.
And as for your advertising, well, until you clean up your act: Save the money.