A Communicator’s Responsibility

I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not about blame. The tragedy of the Arizona shooting was immediately used as a political platform, fistfuls of fingers pointing at extreme conservatives and the imagery used in their language as the cause of the attack. Then just as suddenly, the politically correct crowd went the other way, excusing any language at all completely and blaming the attack on a sadly unhinged young mind. I agree that the person responsible for the attacks is the severely disturbed soul who pulled the trigger – I hope that is very clear. This is, I repeat, not about blame, but about the enormity of communication.
When you watch that new TV commercial featuring the woman who transfers money seamlessly while in a complex yoga position, the voice over doesn’t shout, “close all your accounts NOW and come bank with us!” That voice merely relates the benefits of the product and how it will help your life. But the goal of that communication is to indeed get you to close those accounts and bank with the advertiser. And because of that commercial, many, many, many people will. They are listening to and responding to that communication.
In a larger, much more important framework, positive messages get a great of credit for inspiring people to act. John F. Kennedy addressed 10,000 University of Michigan students in 1960, inspiring them to consider serving in foreign countries –  to make the world a better place. Fully one in 10, over 1,000 students, signed a petition that day saying they would be willing and became the seeds of the Peace Corps, which recruited thousands and still thrives today.
Martin Luther King spoke of having a dream and civil rights legislation was advanced in Congress while thousands of Americans of all colors joined him to march “in peace.” These messages, these communications, this use of language, moved hundreds of thousands in a positive way. These messages changed this very country.  Think of the Bible – just words, thousands of years old, that still hold sway with the vast majority of the human population, controlling thoughts, attitudes, actions, family relations, business and government procedures.
So can we, in the name of political correctness and manners, discount the power of communication because horrible things happen when negative communication is taken too far? Think of Jim Jones and that purple Kool-Aid. His communication caused nearly a thousand (obviously troubled) people to take their own lives. There are “leaders” all over this planet today that have convinced their constituents that genocide is a perfectly reasonable, moderate way of life.
There are ramifications to communication and we must recognize that. Communication is the most powerful tool we have. It is more powerful than armies, than any weapons. Communication changes the course of civilization, it affects millions, it’s what makes us believe or scoff, act or be inert, become patriots or traitors.
The communication of our leaders, our authority figures – on all levels, from preschool to the pulpit, from private homes to public office – should be measured, responsible and, most importantly, positive. Cry out for change, but cry out without malice for the other side. Rouse the masses, but rouse them to help, to aid. Fight, indeed fight! for what you believe is good, but fight without making the other side a monstrous villain.
Communication, this awesome and terrifying tool, must be respected. Positive communication must be demanded of all who have any influence at any level. If we can’t convince them it’s best for our families, and our schools and our towns, our states, this country and this planet and all its people right now, we should point again to history.
Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech – about 5 minutes long – remains relevant, is introduced to new audiences constantly and continues to inspire people all over the world after nearly 50 years. Jesse Helms, on the other hand, filibustered Congress for 16 hours – yes, 16 hours – to block the approval of a federal holiday to honor Dr. King.
And no one remembers a word of that.