In about 3 weeks, I’ll be attending the Public Relations Society of America’s annual conference in Philadelphia — birthplace of freedom.
I attended the conference in New York City a few years ago and learned a lot, was inspired by the entire NYC experience and by the history of communications in our great nation. What I didn’t like about the NYC conference is that a big-name business mogul with really bad hair made an appearance on opening night. Before the event, I wondered how he fit into the genre of professional communicators. Even now, several years afterward, I’m still wondering how he inspired me to be a better communicator.
So several days ago, PRSA announced — nearly breathlessly — that a big-name speaker had agreed at the last minute to speak to our group. Bush White House loyalist Karen Hughes will address the conference. I’ve read some of Hughes’ work — her autobiography was uninteresting and bland — but she’s a dynamic speaker and has clearly utilized successful tactics in her career. After all, she knew George Bush as “governor,” and was part of the team that made him “president.”
In a world of 24 hour news cycles focused on the thugs OJ hangs around with and on when Paris or Lindsey are getting out of jail, it doesn’t surprise me to hear average Americans publicly “boo” people because of initial perceptions.
I was terribly, terribly disappointed, though, when I saw “professional” communicators blogs attack and trash not only Karen Hughes, but the PRSA leaders who decided she is a worthy speaker at the Philadelphia conference. Nobody “booed” when PRSA announced that Tim Russert and Mia Farrow would be keynote speakers.
Thankfully, I’ve found some professional communicators who agree with me. We can show up and listen to what she has to say, then offer public — and substantive — criticism of her speech afterward if we wish. For those who vehemently disagree with her policies and can’t be open-minded enough to at least listen to what she has to say, well, perhaps those professionals should take a walk in downtown Philly and find some impassioned speeches made by the men who wrestled over our Constitution and our form of government. The disagreed, debated, argued, and kept the faith. Ultimately, the product they produced continues to work even now, despite shameful narrow-minded thinking among so called liberals and would be conservatives. Maybe it’s time once again to be Americans, and to respect one another, even as we decide to disagree on some issues.
Communications is about finding common ground. It’s tough to do that if one side is unwilling to listen.