Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

Simple Truths that can be Easily Distorted

The following is from my first new Business Matters radio episode. I’m going to be producing a new program a month that will air on the syndicated program, Inside Out Radio.

If you don’t remember, Inside Out Radio is the successor of Business Matters, we started last year. You can listen to the whole program here.

As I was considering what to share with you today, I was reading a quote from that great American pundit – George Carlin.

He said, “The public will never be concerned about global warming or the greenhouse effect. These words aren’t scary enough. Global means all encompassing; warming connotes comfort, green equals growth and house equals shelter. Growth, Shelter and all-encompassing comfort. Doesn’t sound like much of a threat. Relax…”

Every day we are bombarded with information and messaging from politicians and corporations – media companies and non-profit groups trying to distort our reality. They want us to relax into their worldview because it brings them more profits or power.

They are continuously feeding us their perspective on what’s true. Sometimes they do this with a very overt agenda. More often, though, the intention is subtle and hidden.

Here are a few examples.

There is a technique developed in the 1980s commonly called “astroturfing”.

Astroturf, as you know, is artificial grass. Astroturfing is when a private organization for some political or economic purpose pretends to represent a grassroots effort.

Why does this work? Our pre-disposition is to trust people like us. When we read or are in contact with people who say they represent an issue we feel is important, we trust what they say because we haven’t taken the time to understand the facts.

A famous example of astroturfing was the National Smokers Alliance. This was started by the PR firm of Burson-Marsteller on behalf of Philip Morris. They put together a campaign of phone banks and mailings encouraging people to contact their congressional representative urging them to vote against legislation aimed at discouraging teenagers from starting to smoke.

More recently, there were a number of “grass roots” campaigns launched to scuttle the Presidents’ health care initiative. These were funded by interests from pharmaceutical and insurance companies to “free enterprise” foundations.

They were so effective at convincing people that the legislation was bad for them, those who could best be served by it were some of its staunchest voice opponents.

How could this be possible?

These campaigns distorted facts with words like “death panels” or made statements that the program gave health care to illegal aliens. Rather than find out if these claims were true, people believe them because of their distrust of centralized government and put pressure on their congressional representatives to oppose this legislation.

Another great example for potential obfuscation is non-profit think tanks. Some are there for the purpose of providing you and I with information about critical issues, unfiltered by special interests. I applaud these organizations contribution to the public debate.

The challenge is that many groups are funded by a myriad of donors who want to impact public policy and the social mindset for financial gain.  Their sponsorship is often hidden and the research organization’s names are misleading.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to see that they always support position of their primary benefactors.

Here a few thoughts on how you can become a more discerning consumer of information.

  1. Remember you are responsible for what you believe. Don’t delegate this to someone else.
  2. When you read or listen to someone who is offering you information turn on your discerning “ears” Listen carefully to what’s being said and if there is any discrepancy find more than one source to make sure what you are hearing is valid.
  3. Follow the money of expert or grassroots organizations. If they don’t fully disclose who they are funded by- beware.
  4.  If you find a company supporting astroturfing or deceptive practices, don’t patronize them with your money. This is the strongest encouragement you can offer to modify bad business practices.

Remembering the insightful comments of my interview with Michael Mandel on the special edition of recent Business Matters that our biggest challenge as a country is complacency.

We have grown comfortable with the status quo. For the most part, we are not directly impacted, at least as far as we can see, by the current situation. So why should we get out of our complacency to do anything different?

You and I are the only key to stopping these deceptive practices. And they will be stopped if they stop working.  They stop working when we once again become the informed citizenry that is reminiscent of the level of political awareness that was present at the founding of this country.

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