When Communication Betrays The Truth

(Gilad Shalit photo from Flickr titled "Day of Draft")

<<Date: Friday, June 11, 2010

Hello uncle Erwin,
This is Amir writing you after reading what you sent to my father. As you know, it was my unit and my friends who were on the ship. my commander was injured badly as a result of the "pacifists" violence. I want to tell you how he was injured so you could tell the story. it shows just how horrible and inhuman were the activists. my commander was the first soldier that rappelled down from the helicopter to the ship. when he touched ground, he got hit in the head with a pole and stabbed in the stomach with a knife. when he drew out his secondary weapon-a handgun (his primary weapon was a regular paintball gun- "tippman 98 custom") he was shot in the leg. he managed to fire a single shot before he was tossed from the balcony by 4 arab activists, to the lower deck (a 12 feet fall). he was then dragged by other activists to a room in the lower deck were he was stripped down by 2 activists. they took of his vest, helmet and shirt. leaving him with only his pants and shoes on. when they finished they took a knife and expanded the wound he already had in his stomach. they cut his ab muscles horizontally and by hand spilled his guts out. when they finished they raised him up and walked him on the deck outside. he was conscious the whole time. if you are asking your self why they did all that here comes the reason. they wanted to show the soldiers their commanders body so they will be demoralized and scared. luckily, when they walked him on the deck a soldier saw him and managed to shoot the activist that was walking him down the outside corridor. he shot him with a special non lethal bullet that didn't kill him. my commander managed to jump from the deck to the water and swim to an army rescue boat (his guts still out of his body and now in salty sea water). that was how he was saved. the activists that did this to him are alive and now in turkey treated as heroes. Im sorry if i described this with too many details, but I thought it was necessary for the credibility. please tell this story to anyone who will listen. i think that these days you are one of Israels best spokesman. my e-mail is (EMAIL ADRESS REMOVED.) Amir>>


Briefly - the so-called "peace activists" (a.k.a. terrorists) on the "Gaza flotilla humanitarian mission" literally ripped the guts right out of the first Israeli soldier onboard the ship and similarly mercilessly attacked the others. I write about this now because I just saw the above e-mail, and I thought it was worth sharing.

As a communicator I think about language a lot, obviously. And I don't know about you, but the term "peace activist" brings to my mind images of the "flower children" of the 1960s. You remember them: an entire generation in tie-dye, getting high, with "make love not war" bumper stickers, eating organic sprouts and hummus sandwiches, driving across country in minivans. Sometimes they staged protests, like sit-ins at Columbia. And sometimes those protests turned violent. But the Woodstock era is not remembered as a generation of hate.

In contrast, today's Gaza flotilla "peace activists" are all about metal clubs and knives and disembowelment and more. They in fact share the same objectives as the terrorist gang Hamas. And when Hamas is not busy planning suicide missions (i.e., blowing up buses and pizzerias) and shooting missles indiscriminately against civilian populations in Israel, they attack innocent Palestinians as collaborators. That is the polar opposite of "peace activism" -- it is barbarism and sadism.

Not to connect this with an experience that is trivial in comparison, but I cannot help but relate to this in my own way. A long time ago I worked as a counselor in summer camp. There was another kid there who hated me. I know this because he literally said: "I hate you." In response I said, "Why?" No answer to that except eight weeks of bullying, sometimes subtle and individual and other times overt and with his friends as laughing accomplices.

Some people are just not happy unless they're hurting somebody else. But they never admit that they're sadistic. Usually they blame the victim. As Hamas, and its fellow terrorists and anti-Semites, do to Israel every day, saying every step of the way that the Jewish state is responsible for the terrorists' own murderous aggression.

I hate that this conflict - this war - exists. I hate to see anybody suffer. I feel terrible for the plight of any innocent person (Israeli or Palestinian or otherwise) who is caught in the middle of this terrible conflict. But I know that as much as I wish the problem could be solved amicably, the Palestinians are hostage to terrorists now. Generations of them have been taught to hate Israel, and the Jewish people, wholly and irrationally. And they will therefore not be satisfied with anything other than "pushing the Zionists into the sea."

This past week the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren about the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit four years ago, in 2006. If you are not familiar with Shalit's plight, he was taken using a tunnel secretly and illegally created during a ceasfire between Hamas and Israel. Using something created during a time when Israel tried once again to make peace with terrorists.

Shalit has since been tortured and kept in solitary confinement, and his kidnapping reenacted with great joy by his takers.

Even if he does come back, Shalit will never be the same person he was when he left. Hamas, allies of the "peace activists," has used him to symbolically rape and torture Israel for the past four years, as they have with other victims that have been caught in their clutches.

May G-d have mercy on Shalit and all the innocent victims held hostage by terrorists.

Posted via email from Think Brand First

I Hate Meetings And They Stink

I have had this happen to me SO many times.

I’m sitting in a meeting, and something is going on. Not something like an actual thing, but a tense, negative, or unproductive social dynamic between two people or within the group. I must be like the Terminator of sociology because I can actually sense these situations, like in the movie where the heat-seeking goggles glowed red when there were humans around.

Bad vibes like this are why I usually hate meetings. Particularly because people are generally averse to working out conflict openly, so I have to watch it and not talk while it’s actually going on. Just sit there and have to wait it out till it’s over and I can be real again.

Here are some examples beyond the usual Blackberry/smartphone/cell phone abuse—

1. Asserting, without explanation, that an idea will definitely not work
2. Completely ignoring a suggestion and going on to the next person
3. Making the “are you crazy?” face
4. Rolling eyeballs behind someone’s back
5. Responding to idea with blank stare/silence
6. Ganging up on someone (meeting their suggestion with two “no’s”)
7. Laughing at someone’s ideas
8. Standing up and leaving the meeting without explanation
9. Going into “deep chair slouch”
10. Closing eyes

True, sometimes I find myself entertained by the goings on. Sometimes I hear things that are funny, or the group gets along and there are decent jokes. Always there is some gossip, that’s not too bad. Meetings can be educational as well, seriously. But more often than not, as soon as they get into full swing I feel like I am nine years old again and watching a big family dinner degenerate.

Please don’t start writing comments about how YOUR place of work has fantastic meetings and how you feel bad for me, OK? It’s not about any particular agency; I’ve been around for more than a dozen years, both in government and outside it, and they all generally stink. As soon as you call it a “meeting” and whip out the leather portfolios and play business card roulette, group dynamics start going into motion and the pain begins.

I actually did have a good meeting recently. I had to participate in a phone call to plan for another meeting (yes, this is Washington, land of meetings) and to be honest I had dreaded the phone call all morning. Not because of the participants, but just because I get nervous about planned social interactions. Surprise surprise. My skin is about as thick as wax paper.

Then, mercifully, the whole thing lasted maybe 15 minutes. Fortunately for me most of the other participants did not remember to get on the call! And those of us that remained agreed: We were so relieved not to have to continue the meeting and everything would work out just fine and we would immediately get back to our cubes, or Starbucks or whatever place we could go to with our notebooks and hide from the rest of humanity to recover.

Actually, wait. I have to admit that I had another good meeting today. And that is because the vendor forgot to show up. We all sat around waiting for awhile until it was clear that we had been stood up, and it couldn’t properly be called a meeting anymore. That was when the dynamics stopped and we started to just be ourselves.

Maybe the problem with meetings is that we associate them with the pressure to seem like a grownup, when inside we’re all just little kids. We think that grownups at meetings have to show up and seem to know some amazing, mystical important thing. Like the meeting room is a gladiator ring, and our brains and smart mouths are our weapons. And if we don’t show up and fight, we’re dead.

And then there’s all this talk about being collaborative! And we’re surprised when people are not!

I wonder what life would be like at meetings if we forgot that we were at work. We could imagine that work is over, that it’s happy hour or back in college or even back to the days of our childhood, when we sat outside and waited on the porch for the ice cream truck.

My mother told me yesterday that some rabbits gave birth on her front lawn and the neighborhood girls hung around to watch as my mom figured out how to deal with it. I’m sure they gave her advice too. Maybe it was kind of a – meeting – because surely my mom called the neighbors and they all weighed in.

I know this sounds totally disgusting, the whole rabbits giving birth part, but I have a feeling that the rabbit meeting was sort of cool. Because the getting together was not about a fight to the death but rather about actually hanging out together and solving a problem too. Which is really what meetings should be about.

Elderly people know how to have meetings too. I see them sometimes hanging around in packs. Comparing notes, complaining, yakking away the time.

Funny how kids and the elderly seem to understand a paradox of time: how it can at once seem to stretch out endlessly and be just about gone. It’s not that they aren’t ever hostile to each other, just that they either haven’t learned or have gotten past the need to aggressively prove themselves by excluding or being hostile to others.

I say we get rid of meetings altogether and replace them with potluck lunches, vegan. Or make your own ice cream sundae parties. Or heck, we could just go out on the National Mall and ride bikes. Wait there for the ice cream truck.

Anything but try to act like grownups.

Fear and Communication Don't Go Together

I saw a woman in the elevator yesterday. She was a Holocaust survivor
who once gave a short talk in synagogue about her experience in the
war. The talk made more than a few people cry, including me. She was
so brave. I can’t imagine how anyone could go through what she went
through and come out the other side. It hurt to hear the story but I
was grateful that she had shared it.

The woman in the elevator was with a friend who had also decided to
speak out. In fact she was on the way to the Holocaust Museum to sign
copies of her own book about the war. And I know of another person in
the community who published an account of his own at the age of 90.

There is a reason that people are publishing their stories in the
latter part of their lives. There is a reason they didn’t write about
it right away.

In my own family, when I was growing up, we never talked about the
war, though everyone was touched by it. Some were in the concentration
camps, some in labor camps. Others had to run, were detained,
separated from the family and all their belongings taken away. What
they knew of as home was destroyed. Those who weren’t physically
there, the children of the survivors and their relatives, were hurt by
the trauma felt by those that were.

Like a sponge I have soaked up this idea that I too should keep quiet.
But I was jarred when the journalist Helen Thomas unleashed an
anti-Semitic diatribe recently, and a lot of people, if not supporting
her, indicated that she was entitled to “free speech.” I realized that
I am entitled to the same free speech that she is, and that I have
never used it to speak out about the Jewish experience, of the
Holocaust or anything else. Her hatred had a voice, but the reality of
my people, suppressed, had none through me.

My “Zayde” (grandfather, on my father’s side) was in a labor camp
during the Holocaust. He didn’t talk about it and he didn’t let my
“Bubbie” (grandmother), my father or my aunt do so either. Zayde
married Bubbie after she had been liberated from Auschwitz. Not only
did they never talk about it, but according to my father, Zayde
survived the war by learning to lie, all the time, about anything and
everything. The capacity to lie meant the capacity to evade death,
because you never knew what a question really meant or how it would be
used against you.

Secrecy. No truth. No ability to talk.

My Zayde, whose job it was to tend the horses in the camp, didn’t let
the duplicity imperative keep him down. My father told me that he
instead chose to hide fellow inmates, shivering from the cold, under
the straw where the horses slept. Undoubtedly the guards would have
been murderous had they found out about that “exercise of agency,” as
the sociologists call it. In plain and simple terms, Zayde risked his
own life to lie even more than he had to, in an environment where even
obedience was suspect.

I would have liked to hear his story directly from him, while he was
alive. My dad says he and my grandmother told their stories to a
Holocaust documentarian once, but I am reluctant to press anyone to
see the video—I get the feeling that they talked out of a sense of
duty, and I am not supposed to see it.

Still, I am sad that my Holocaust stories come from the stories of
others, from the documentaries of others’ lives, and from depictions
in popular culture. My own Bubbie and Zayde, who were there, I still
don’t know even after they are gone.

I know they thought they were protecting me. That it was better for me
to focus on the future, on building a better life than the one they
had escaped. But no matter how hard they tried, I could see that my
grandmother’s eyes were vacant and sad. She spoke to me like you would
speak politely to a stranger. I didn’t understand that it had nothing
to do with me but with what had been taken from her. I wish that
someone would have explained. That she would have had the ability to
explain. That someone had not stolen from her the fundamental right to

My mother’s parents are gone, too. I know more about them than I do
about my father’s parents. They weren’t in the war. But they didn’t
talk to me about the difficult things in their lives. And I am missing
something I can never get back because of it.

When I look back I realize that I grew up in a culture of silence. Why
it is, we could debate. It’s probably a lot of things—stemming from
Jewish culture, post-traumatic syndrome, even generational differences
in what is considered socially appropriate. But whatever the reason, I
soaked in a set of values that told me that being silent was the
default, and that even feelings themselves could be dangerous. And my
parents shared these values even though the kinds of Jewish families
they came from could not have been more culturally different—one
Eastern European Hasidic, the other thoroughly Americanized.

Thinking about this I realize that when you learn not to talk, or to
speak falsely, or to avoid honest but difficult feelings, you
basically become disconnected from yourself. And when that happens,
you can’t connect with other people—you lose your ability to

No matter how many cool communication techniques you know, no matter
how many social media tools you master, to communicate effectively you
have to go back to basics and allow yourself to feel without filters.
You have to perceive things like a child, like a blank slate, even
though as an adult you know that you might feel the sting of a
negative reaction if you are perceived as violating the status quo.

You might think that you can skip the difficult part of introspection
and cut straight to the part where you memorize the script and dress
the part. But the truth is, if you choose this path you will be worse
off than the kid who’s getting their hand slapped for questioning the
teacher – you’ll be the one who can’t follow the lecture in the first

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The PR War Nobody Talks About

The real star of the new Karate Kid isn't Jaden Smith, although it's
clear that he is a natural. It is Jackie Chan, who, in a departure
from his usual comedic roles, shows a much more serious side. In fact
to me it seemed that he wasn't even acting.

In the movie, Chan very believably teaches Smith that the way to win a
war, paradoxically, is to put your mind at peace. Banish anger and
hatred, and replace it with stillness.

It's a paradox because one instinctively thinks that anger at the
enemy breeds the ability to destroy them. Dehumanize them and you can
take them down.

But that's not true - the emotional instability creates vulnerability
to attack from someone who is calm and focused.

The same thing holds true for PR.

We may instinctively think that to make the client look good, we have
to tell ourselves that the client is good, has done good, can do no

That's not always true, and the public knows it. If you go along with
the sham, the public won't trust your client and they won't trust you

Does that mean you are supposed to fling your mouth open and sing like
a canary about the client's every bugaboo? Of course not. That's just
silly, and extreme.

But it does mean that the very best PR specialists face the
uncomfortable truths first, fast, and quickly, not because they're
"mean" or "harsh" but because they want to help their clients. We are
like surgeons - and a damaged reputation is like cancer. The best
medicine is preventive, but once the cancer has taken root and spread,
it has to be cut out completely, or the client's reputation will die.

It is sad that the BP story has become an excuse to blame PR
specialists for all of the company's woes. The reality is, we do what
our clients tell us to do. The key (besides having a commitment to
being ethical) is for the PR specialist to

1) trust in and advocate for the truth

2) convince the client to tell the truth as best they can (and
withdraw if the client refuses for no good reason) and

3) engage with those who are critical of the client in a fair, open,
but strong way.

Things don't always play out the way you want, it's true, but you can
still do your best and trust the universe (the public) to be your net
if you are still attacked.

Example - a story about Verizon the other day by NY Times columnist
David Pogue. I was alerted to it by a negative Tweet (against Verizon)
by Tim O'Reilly. Don't have the link anymore, but the story focused on
an accusation against the company by an unnamed internal source.
Source said that Verizon was telling employees not to proactively
sugest the data blocks that could help customers avoid inadvertent
charges caused by clicking the "connect to Web" button.

The Verizon rep's response to this accusation was great. I don't know
if it is true, but it sounded credible to me because she confronted
the charge directly and comprehensively, and then denied it flatly in
language that was clear, simple, and for which the company could be
held accountable.

I read the story and thought that perhaps the accusation was wrong,
though I couldn't be sure. Definitely it seemed unfair for O'Reilly to
assume guilt. So I replied to his Tweet saying that it seemed

I don't represent Verizon. But as a member of the public I offered a
comment based on their PR specialists' response to an accusation. The
response was based on respect for the truth and the public's ability
to discern and distrust a liar.

Bottom line - you can't hide from reality, and in the end, the public
decides everything - not the client and not the PR rep and not anybody
else. Your job, if you are in PR, is to be a facilitator for the
truth. Don't let your client, your employer's organizational culture,
or your own psychology get in the way of confronting it.

Posted via email from Think Brand First

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