Dear PRSA Members:
I had written my column for this month’s newsletter on a different topic, but I wanted to change it after listening to one of the speakers at the PRSA International Conference in Austin, Robert Reich.
During his talk, Reich, who formerly served as Labor Secretary and is a published author and documentary producer, explained why he believes this country is more divided than ever, and how communicators play an important role in changing that. He told great stories that illustrated these facts, and it got me thinking about my own experiences and contributions to this.
Here are Reich’s three reasons why the country is more politically divided than ever:
- Tribal Geography: He talked about how people choose to live in areas where people agree with them, which causes a geographic divide.
- Stagnant Wages: Reich said the median wage for people hasn’t changed since the 1970s, and while developed coping mechanisms to moderate this stagnation, those have become less effective as years have passed. For instance, he said 90% of the Boomers are doing better than their parents finanically, while only 36% percent of Millennials have done the same.
- Media—Because the attention spans are decreasing, there’s a competition to get you to watch a program or read the paper. Media wants to grab it, so they have found that showing anger and conflict are the best way to get high ratings. This has a corroding effect on how the media covers news, and it influences the tone of our broader political conversation and how people communicate.
Reich said that although these factors are contributing to the divide, communicators can help turn things around. He talked about how the founding fathers practiced civic virtue, which is the act of listening to and respecting different opinions. They actively listened to the other side and had civil debates. He stressed how the public needs and wants this type of productive conversation, and we, as communicators, need to help bring this back.
He stressed the importance of being truthful and striving to engage in civic virtue. We need to carry this torch. It’s our social responsibility as communicators.
What can we be doing better to help make this happen? I started thinking about my actions, and how I haven’t engaged as much with those who think differently than me. I try not to have political chats with family, but I need to start having them. It’s uncomfortable, but I believe it’s critical, so we can bring civic virtue back.
How can PRSA-NCC help our members engage better with opposing views? I would love to hear your ideas.