There have been some interesting and instructive, if disturbing, events lately involving communication. At the top of the list has to be Iran’s leader speaking at Columbia University.
Should he have been allowed to speak at Coloumbia? You will hear fervant arguments on either side of the issue, but he was welcomed to speak. In the past, Columbia has not extended the same privilege to other voices who are a lot less dangerous than this person. Or worse, audiences have shouted down individuals who were asked to speak. Why is that? Why have others not been given the same courtesy as the highly controversial leader of Iran?
More With Les does not discuss politics. That is not my purpose. I see some recent events in terms of communication issues. Accordingly, why is it that we have lost our ability, or our willingness, to listen to other viewpoints? What are we afraid of?
For example, a blogger buddy of mine is currently talking about PRSA’s announcement that Karen Hughes, former Bush advisor and now an ambassador for the U.S. State Department charged with spreading a pro-democracy message around the world to fight terriorism, will speak at the group’s October conference. Sadly, much of the discussion centers on how she will likely be booed off the stage by conference attendees.
Booed by “professional” communicators? Why? Are we to believe that professional communicators are so afraid of this woman or have such contempt for her for whatever reason that they must shout her down at a professional forum? Is listening politely to her such a damaging ordeal that professionals cannot be expected to sit quietly by and let her speak?
This is profoundly disturbing to me. Nazis burned books. Oppressive regimes all over the world, including Iran, silence their critics in sometimes unspeakable ways. Are Americans becoming so hardened ideologically that we simply cannot listen to opposing viewpoints?
If Hughes does speak at the PRSA conference and is shouted down, then it will be a sad day indeed. If professional communicators disruptively boo her because she represents a different political ideology from theirs, or whatever reason, then it will be a black eye for PRSA. Further, the entire profession will be cheapened and diminished. If the speaker was a known enemy of the United States like Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez or any given Al Qaeda leader, then the situation would be different. But Karen Hughes?
I hope the attendees will have the common courtesy to behave like true professionals. That does not mean blind agreement with this or any other speaker. It simply means acting professionally, listening politely, and not denigrating the event, the association, or the profession by shouting someone down. If an attendee cannot stand the message or the messenger, don’t attend. Or, simply get up and leave, and on the way out, grab a session evaluation form and register your feelings about it. That is a more professional way for professionals to act.