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« Inspire Me | Main | Christophobia »

Kill the Messenger

Americans hate bad news.  Well, with the exception of earthquakes, hurricanes, massacres and stuff that happens to other people.  What we hate is bad personal news that undermines our sense of well-being.

So, the doctor does not come in and tell you straight up that you are going to die.  The politician will never tell you he’s going to steal more of your money.  The teacher will not let you know that your kid has a low IQ.  The boss wouldn’t think of telling you that you’re not getting that promotion because your personality (or your hygiene) stinks.  And God help the preacher at the funeral who dares to even hint that grandma might not have gone to heaven!

It’s a long-standing tradition among us; we simply cannot handle bad news.  This does not bode well for the messenger.  We will kill the bearer of bad news—figuratively, if not literally.  Truth, if we get a taste of it at all, must be doled out in miniscule doses.  In fact, we now claim a perceived right NOT to hear bad news.  Bad news offends us, and our own Supreme Court says we have a right not to be offended.

This society penalizes those too stupid to edit out or cover up negativity.  We attack, malign, insult and summarily dismiss bad news messengers.  We accuse them of having an agenda.  They are said to be brainwashed, bigoted, intolerant and insensitive.  They are called cruel, obstructionists, hate mongers, and liars. 

As a result, telling the truth has an exorbitantly high price attached to it.  It can cost you your reputation, your honor, your job, your relationships, or even your life.  You may have to hire an expensive lawyer to defend you in court—or bodyguards to defend you out of court.  Most people say “no thanks.”  The price is too steep.  They will probably just keep their mouths shut.   If they do have to talk, they will spin the bad news into something that sounds good.

Spinning is the dubious art of not telling the truth, but making it sound like you are telling the truth.  It is the attempt to make bad news look, sound and feel good.  We substitute political correctness, euphemisms, diplomacy and fancy rhetoric for truth.  We divert attention, hem and haw, wink and nod, play with smoke and mirrors, stick our head in the proverbial sand and whistle in the dark (and a bunch of other clichés), all to avoid the tension caused by unvarnished honesty. 

Let me illustrate.  We don’t kill babies; we engage in “planned parenthood.”  People are not deviates or perverts; they choose an “alternative lifestyle.”  We don’t say “Merry Christmas;” we say “Happy Holidays.”  We don’t have city dumps; we have sanitary landfills.  Pornography is referred to as adult movies or adult literature.  People are not crippled; they are disabled or differently-abled.  We don’t have people out of work; they are occupationally challenged.  Euphemisms like these provide a welcomed out to nervous messengers.  They can stay in their smiling, non-confrontational, supportive mode and not be burdened with truth-telling.  Truth just makes people so uncomfortable, you know. 

The “kill the messenger” strategy of dealing with truth-tellers has metastasized throughout our society like a malignant tumor.  In politics, it has polarized the nation into partisan factions.  In economics, it has escalated the fight between capitalism and socialism to a fever pitch.  In social issues—like abortion and sexual orientation—people have abandoned all pretense of dialogue. They simply scream at each other. 

Here’s the problem:  You can kill the messenger, but you can’t kill the message.  John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  Admittedly, we may be powerless to reverse the trend in society at large, but we can definitely change the way we respond to truth-tellers on a personal level.

1.  Listen.  I mean really listen.  Listen to the whole story.  Most of us listen just long enough to figure out the position or attitude of the speaker.  Then, we react.

2.  Don’t be prejudiced.  Don’t attach the speaker to an agenda or a cause until you hear him or her out.  You may be wrong.  Imagine that!

3.  Hear the facts.  Don’t let your own prejudices make you hear something that is actually not being said.  So what if the messenger has an opinion.  You can still cull out the facts from the story.

4.  Be humble.  Admit you own wrongs.  You can either admit wrong now and have time to correct your course, or you can be bull-headed and drive ninety miles an hour into a brick wall.

5.  Don’t cauterize your conscience.  You must remain sensitive to right and wrong and act accordingly if you want to sleep at night. 

Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”  Positive, negative or neutral, truth must be met and processed.  Do it yourself or someone else will do it for you.

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