Reflections on a Year (OpEd)

by Rob Yates
LPNC Communications Director

This month marks one year that I have had the honor of serving as your communications director. It has been quite a ride since speaking on behalf of Joshua at the Gastonia council meeting a year ago (unexpectedly, actually) which opened up a discussion about potentially taking on this role, and the rest, as they say, is history. To recognize one year of you all having to put up with me, I thought I might reflect on some of my observations and hopefully spark some new conversations. 

This is the first of two parts.

An overall look at the last year

My entire background - education and professional - comprises some combination of writing, communication, and marketing. It's why this role has felt very natural to me at times, leading to what I consider, on balance, a reasonably successful first year. The newsletter has re-launched, and it is improving, we have the podcast going again, and we've had a number of successful targeted outreach campaigns, to give a few examples. 

Despite any experience I have in communications, marketing, psychology, and writing, applied in what I thought was a wide array of forums, politics is a different world. I have also felt completely out of place, unsteady, and unsure more often than not. It's a weird social experiment, where we've created this team sport where winning, at any cost, is all that matters, and we ascribe life or death value to victory for no reason except we’re told to do so. We have so much left to accomplish, and I don’t feel like I have even really gotten started.

In business, the arts, and, in fact, in most places in the real world, communication is generally taken in good faith, and the intent is to convey meaning, which others earnestly try to grasp, process, and use to generate a response, sometimes beautifully. The greatest writers, lyricists, teachers, and salespeople alike are masters of this art form, which is how they become the greatest in all disciplines where the capacity to convey your meaning in a way that is recognized and adopted by the listener is paramount. 

Politics is exactly the opposite. Not that everyone takes everything you say in bad faith, ascribing the worst possible interpretation through a warped viewpoint. But a lot do. And it's always a possibility. Toxic environments like that are soul crushing, which is why most successful politicians are vapid caricatures of real people. 

But the politics are seeping out into the real world and poisoning everyday discourse so quickly, even Edward Bernays would advise caution. Your politics must be worn loudly as a symbol to the rest of the world announcing your morality, and battle lines are drawn. People face potential scrutiny, shaming, ostracization, vitriol, and other powerful society backlash, not l just for saying or doing something, but for not doing the opposite loudly enough. 

Human beings have evolved to have a strong need for companionship. We have an innate fear of being alone or banished, confirmed by study after study after study after study. Virtue signaling is the political version of flashing a gang sign; you are publicly reaffirming your commitment to that team so they don't kick you off. 

This isn't a silly example of weak-willed people. I don't think we, as a society, consider just how damaging anxiety disorders are to us as a population. The sheer number of people who live in a constant state of fight-or-flight has led to a pattern of behavior where each "team" desperately repeats behaviors which they believe will hurt the other team and help them. 

But politics is a zero-sum game. If winning is the only thing that matters, then anything is justified, as long as you get away with it. Politicians naturally take advantage of the fight-or-flight response-driven permanent anxiety and focus it against the "other" side. It's why our rights are blatantly ignored as corporate interests buy elected officials so routinely that we even have laws protecting their ability to do so. 

The answer, if we could wave the proverbial magic wand, is to get money out of politics. Of course, politicians aren’t keen to relinquish that gravy train. I am convinced that the only way to get money out of politics is to take back so much power that politicians don't matter anymore. To get to that point? We have a lot of work to do. 

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