Sometimes it takes time and perspective before the true impact of an idea or an action is fully realized, especially in our dizzying culture. The Greek philosopher Socrates was charged with “corrupting youth,” and he was sentenced to death by hemlock. But today he’s regarded as one of the giants in Western philosophy and a forefather of the scientific method. We’re probably not willing to wait that long for a payoff, but you get the idea.
Has Barack Obama lost his oratorical touch? Is he beginning to be tuned out because we see so much of him?
Instead of the 15 minutes he was allotted, Colonel Gaddafi of Libya recently spoke for 96 minutes to UN delegates in New York. He discussed Somali pirates, the death of JFK, jet lag and swine flu conspiracy theories. He was ridiculed by the media and anyone within ear shot.
As a writer, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that it was in my best interest to assume that most people don’t read very much or listen very well. Short attention spans, busy lives and almost constant distractions create enormous challenges for communicators. It’s an undeniable fact that audiences bore easily.
President Obama waded into the treacherous waters of Middle East politics last week with his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. In so doing, he gave us a simple lesson in bridge-building leadership that we can learn from. What made it a success were words and ideas that valued honesty, fairness and respect in an effort to find common ground – no easy feat in a region torn by division and violence for more than 50 years.
President Obama’s recent speech before a joint session of Congress last week couldn’t have contrasted more sharply with the rebuttal given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. But the stark differences in style and political substance were only part of what set these two speeches apart. The other key difference was the choice of words and images they used to build a “reality” for the audience that they could easily comprehend, given the complexity of our economic difficulties.