Fixing the Toxic Talk PRoblem

I am not what you would call a “politico.”  The closest I come to being a political junkie is staying up late to watch election returns.

However, I do live and work in Washington, DC, where it is impossible to NOT get pulled into the machine from time to time.

Over the course of my career, I’ve dabbled in a few political events.  I’ve met politicians from “my” persuasion that I didn’t enjoy spending time with and had terrific encounters with officials from the “other team.”

I’ve spent the majority of my career in sports, where there is a clear winner and a loser.  (We won’t get into the head-scratching NFL overtime rules here.)

Politics has, sadly, become a little too much like sports, in that respect.

It’s become “me” vs. “you;”  “us” vs. “them;” and a lethal dose of “good” vs. “evil.”

The conversation may be most popularly held over TV shows that try to present themselves as news, but it also takes place in taxis, restaurants, board rooms and street corners around the country.

And while this type of debate is just fine when, say, picking a vampire or a werewolf (my 13 year old cousin is werewolf.  I’ll hang with her), it’s become an unhealthy zero-sum game when it comes to governing the United States.  All sides want what’s best for the country and citizens should embrace different viewpoints, as we are democratic, not autocratic.

A huge spotlight has been turned on “Toxic Talk” following the horrific shooting at a congressional event in Tucson, leaving many dead and millions scarred.  Our culture – which WE have full control over – developed into an environment where a young man (allegedly) interrupted a discussion with violence.  I am not so naïve to think this was the first time such an event has transpired, but that fact doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

The old Spider-Man quote goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

As marketers, journalists and communicators, we have a measure of power.  Whether we are lobbying for a bill on Capitol Hill (thank you, School House Rock) or trying to convince people our restaurant is the best in town or critiquing the latest indie flick, we have the ability to develop, shape or interpret a message.  Shouldn’t that power come with the responsibility to keep our civilization…well…civil?

Aren’t we, as a nation, and an industry, better than zero-sum?  Why is compromise a dirty word?

Most of the posts you read here provide answers and insight.  This one will leave you with one more question, which I hope you’ll answer below.

How do we, as communicators, maximize our power and responsibility to be a part of the solution to “Toxic Talk?”

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  • I may be over simplifying this, but as you said earlier many people are scared. Shouldn’t we employ a tactic that was used during 9/11, focus on the positive? As communicators/journalists, we should be telling those stories that will either get citizens minds off of some of the current events or focusing on the positives. Instead of harping on how scary the event in Arizona was, shouldn’t we be finding those stories of the heroes or the companies/churches/organizations that are finding ways to help? This will help begin to change the climate of what is going on around us.

    • I hate to disagree in the comment section of a post that’s largely about being kinder to each other, but I remember a much different post-9/11 reaction. There were positive stories about heroism in that time, but I don’t remember the media at all getting our minds off the events, if indeed such a thing was ever possible. I also remember the media having just as many awful, negative stories in the aftermath of 9/11: reports of beatings of Muslim Americans, talk show hosts calling for an immediate strike on someone, anyone, and a pervading feeling of helplessness. I think the AZ shooting also has its hero stories alongside its tragic ones, which is good and right, because how can we not talk about what actually happened? Wouldn’t that be the worst kind of hubris, to ignore these events and pretend we’re not scared of what we have every right to be scared of? I don’t think it’s toxic to acknowledge that truth without irresponsibly turning it into a “we vs. them” game.

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