Canadian PR Expert Says Public Discourse In “Toxic State”

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James Hoggan, President of Vancouver PR firm, Hoggan & Associates, as well as Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, just released a new book called I’m Right, and You’re an Idiot. The book discusses the problems faced by society with all the name calling and unwillingness to listen to someone else’s thoughts or feelings on any given topic.

There’s been a lot of that behavior in politics lately, but it doesn’t end there, it’s in science too – as seen in how issues with climate control have taken more than 20 years to be viewed with any seriousness, and still many call it a “fake.” The problem that happens when “fake” or “loser” or “bigot” or any other negative term is used, it shuts down conversation or discourse on the real issues.

Whether or not climate control (as an example) is fake, shouldn’t be the question. What should be looked at is the data supporting the theory and then it should be discussed with both sides represented. If science is not handled that way, we could still think the world was flat. It’s the open exchange of thoughts and ideas that moves us forward. In time, there comes further information, the approach is adjusted, and everyone moves forward by a few more steps.

It’s the same in politics or social media. Once fingers start pointing and negative titles used, conversation shuts down, feelings get hurt, and everyone walks away a bit disgusted. No good comes from lack of open discussion. And when that lack of discussion happens on a large scale, public trust is lost. When the public sees such behavior, they know nothing is going to happen to improve things, leaving them with a sense of hopelessness.

As Hoggan says in his book, “We need more reporters, we need more journalists, and they need more time to be digging into these issues and [going] beyond the kind of name-calling and the kind of rhetoric on the surface.”

Shauna Sylvester, the executive director of the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, said “I’m a trained debater. I know how to go for the jugular, I know how to listen, find the gaps in someone’s argument, and go for it and try to win the argument. Dialogue … is the exact opposite of that. It’s about listening deeply, it’s about finding the centre of what people are saying, it’s trying to build on people’s arguments, and trying to find solutions.”

Clearly, we need more dialog, but getting to that point means those who have been benefiting from their attack-mode behaviors need to start feeling the heat for their actions. Accomplishing that will be the real trick.

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