See, Now You’re Just Making Stuff Up

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Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

In the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris Bueller fakes being sick to get out of going to school. By the second period, there are “Save Ferris” fundraisers and harrowing stories of Ferris passing out “at the 31 Flavors last night.” All of it caused by people passing on something they’d heard and embellishing a bit. The funny thing was, none of it was true!

Modern social media and even political discourse are not very different.

There once was a time when the British press characterized the late summer as the “Silly Season.”  Fleet Street would run frivolous stories and people out on the last few weeks of summer holiday would seem to want to cram in all the, well, silliness, they could before the end of summer. August, in particular, seems to be especially prone to nuttiness, from the ridiculous to the dangerous. After two Augusts in a row when the international order reeled from the invasion of Kuwait followed the next year with the coup in the Soviet Union, Pres George H. W. Bush even remarked, What is it about August?  

Nowadays, it seems the silly season is not merely confined to August. Between perpetual political campaigns, a Twitter-fueled 24-second news cycle, and effectively unlimited information at our fingertips all the time, every day is now the “Silly Season.” Spend 24 seconds on television or any social media platform if you don’t believe me. This makes it paramount to take our responsibility to both hold our tongues and keyboards, as well as get the actual facts about the social “tornado” de jour. The other day I was on Facebook when I ran across a discussion between two friends about an issue I feel very strongly about. Not only did they espouse the opposite view from my own, but they supported their argument with things are were false on their face at best, and calumny at worst. I was tempted to write something brilliant and snarky, but took a deep breath and changed my mind. After the wave of indignation passed, I logged off Facebook and haven’t been back to that conversation since.

It’s Not You, It’s Your Poor Research

You see, what made me sad was less that my friends held an opposing view – I don’t require my friends to agree with me on anything – but that their “defense” of their position was based on sound bites and talking points. They hadn’t even bothered to attempt to understand their opponents’ position. That makes me very sad. We don’t have to agree, but we ought to at least avoid having conversations that mirror the snark on cable news shows and Twitter. We can do better. We need to use our Information Superhighway for good, not for evil. Always check the links out before posting, and always, always, always go to the source. Hearsay is dangerous. Most importantly, never start with the idea that your ideological opposite is evil. Begin with the idea they’re working in good faith but they’re merely misinformed and be prepared to walk away rather than win an argument at the cost of a relationship. Believe me, you may make your point, but if you break a family or friend to do it, it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

Even Genghis Khan famously left his enemies an avenue of escape – surely we can do the same in our discussions. Andy Taylor had the same idea. As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Mickey is an expert in leadership and organizational change. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. Mickey now works with clients around the country to improve performance and help organizational transformation. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC. Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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