Watch Your Words: 5 Lessons To Learn from Phil Robertson and Justine Sacco
Personally, I think there are way more important things for our nation to get worked up about than the caustic, impromptu utterances of TV celebrities and media conglomerate PR executives. But the fury that has erupted over the words of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and the tweets of IAC’s former public relations representative Justine Sacco should give us pause.
Here are five lessons for both our children and us to learn from these situations:
1. People Will Judge You By What You Say
They will arrive at that judgment quickly, and it will not likely be a charitable or forgiving judgment. Of course, most of us are nobodies from nowhere and are unlikely to arouse the ire of millions like Phil and Justine. Then again, who had ever heard of Justine Sacco before her fateful pre-flight tweet?
The point is, people will judge you according to what you say, and the more shocking the comment, the more likely it is to spread and produce outrage.
It seems unfair to make snap judgments about people we don’t know based on a single quote, but our words do reveal our hearts, after all.
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. ~Matthew 12:34
2. How You Express Yourself Matters
Both Phil and Justine were, at best, crude in their communication. It’s very possible that in both cases they were at least partially victims of their own inarticulateness. Let’s avoid this by becoming masters of words. It can be dangerous to miscommunicate when addressing controversial topics.
This means we should take care to develop vocabulary, semantics, rhetoric, and a sense of tone and propriety. If you are looking for a writing program that does this, I would be happy to recommend one I know of.
3. The Delete Key Is an Illusion
It’s so easy to let our immediate thoughts and knee-jerk reactions spew out via keyboards and keypads. And in a world of rapid texting and digital communication, it seems easy enough to edit, hide, or delete words we later regret. But Justine Sacco learned the hard way that this isn’t always possible. She published her fateful tweet just before boarding a WiFi-less plane, and by the time she landed, her tweet had gone viral, her career was over, and her public persona irreparably damaged.
Let’s be sure our kids know that anything they publish, post, or tweet can be captured, copied, and communicated infinitely. Even Snapchat images, which are supposed to disappear within seconds, can be immortalized easily on any smartphone.
It’s one thing to say something regrettable. Spoken words can fade and be forgotten. Not so our spoutings on social media.
4. Freedom of Speech Is Not Freedom from Consequences
Most folks are getting the idea that neither of these controversies are matters of freedom of speech. They have occurred precisely because of our country’s freedom of speech policy. No one is suggesting that laws be passed or that anyone should be censored by public officials. In both Phil’s and Justine’s cases, the consequence for their speech came via their employers — private companies with every right to dismiss someone for expressing ideas they deem offensive. If we feel strongly that these employers acted inappropriately, it is our right to stop doing business with them and express our opinions as we see fit.
What we must teach our children is that being free to say what we think is not the same as being free from the consequences of what we speak. There are those who will want to suppress or punish me for believing things they don’t agree with. Depending on the social group I offend, they can be very effective in doing so.
That doesn’t mean we should never speak our minds publicly. Certainly there will be times when this is the right and necessary thing to do. But we must do so with the full awareness of the potential consequences.
Are we counting the cost before we speak? Are we teaching our kids to do so?
5. Grandma Was Right
If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. –Everyone’s Grandma
Generally speaking, we’d all do well to listen to Grandma. Let’s be quick to commend and praise and a whole lot slower to condemn and criticize. Some things may be true, but better left unsaid. It’s not likely anyone is going to lose their job for being kind and gracious in their texting and tweeting.
Because of all of the above, I’m not interested in expressing my opinions on Phil Robertson’s comments, A & E’s response, Justine Sacco’s comments or the actions of her former employers. I’ve certainly got nothing to say about it that hasn’t already been said. I’ll just take note and learn some lessons for me and my family.
I hope you do too.
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