No doubt about it, the political climate of 2009 is hot. When policymakers on both sides of the aisle think nothing of accusing their opponents of lying, you know that discourse in the public sphere has reached an all-time low.
In the old days, politicians would say their opponents were “misinformed” or didn’t have a clear understanding of the facts. Accusing someone of “playing fast and loose with the truth” was about as close as someone would get to using the “L” word.
Accusing someone of lying is direct and simple – usually the goal of most communicators. But I believe it reflects our growing inability to discuss, explain and persuade with plain, no-nonsense – yet respectful – speech and writing.
It’s like the frustrated little boy who doesn’t have the verbal skills to say what he wants or needs, so he screams, kicks and bites. Screaming “fascist” or “communist” or “you lie!” is not very different.
On the other side of the coin is communications so mired in jargon, double meaning, and indecipherable and irrelevant detail that no one can figure out what others are really saying, whether they’re trying to push a health care bill or sell a product. And in this cloudy context, it’s hard to know why anybody should care in the first place.
Achieving simplicity of message isn’t easy but often our leaders don’t even try. Many of the brilliant minds in finance, business, science and academia feel just fine about communicating in their special jargon or technical-ese, because that’s what separates them from the unwashed masses. Communication be damned.
And that leads me to immodesty and our culture of “expressive individualism.” That’s one reason why Joe Wilson felt no internal constraint to yell at the president at a joint session of Congress.
A lack of verbal skills, the use of jargon to reflect how special we are, or a culture in which modesty and reflection are out of style –these are all ingredients for poor communications.
Isn’t it time to think just a bit longer before we write or speak? Can’t we strive to keep it simple, clear and relevant, so we know what’s going on and can discuss our problems like adults?