My dad became a Rotarian a number of years after I left home for college. He threw himself into his work with the organization with his typical enthusiasm because he cared about his local community. He could never be accused of indifference. Eventually, he became the leader of his local chapter. After he died, the district Rotary organization invited my sisters and me to attend the year’s annual awards meeting. There, we accepted an honor for my dad, the “Service Above Self Award” for his district. I first became aware at that meeting of the Four-Way Test that members of Rotary recite every time they gather. I was so struck with it that I printed it out and taped it to the bottom of my computer, where I see it every day.
The Four-Way Test
Of the things we think, say or do
- Is it the TRUTH?
- Is it FAIR to all concerned?
- Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
- Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
This is an elegant, flexible guide to encourage the worthiest words in all interactions. I notice, however, an underlying assumption: this is for people who WANT these things (i.e., truth, fairness, goodwill, and better friendships). Plenty of people in the world unfortunately don’t.
We have seen two vivid examples of this recently.
The first was a simply-worded ad written by Josh Tetrick, the CEO and Founder of Hampton Creek (a company, you’ll note, that has the words “guided by reason, justice and fairness” right at the top of their Twitter header). The ad, entitled “Dear Donald,” appeared in the New York Times and the Plain Dealer, a local paper located in Cleveland. The Republican National Convention, of course, is going on there right now. You can read the ad in its entirety here. In the ad, Tetrick chides Trump for his disparagement of women and ethnic minorities. (I think it is probably safe to say that Donald Trump does not often consider his words based on the principles behind Rotary’s Four-Way Test.)
Americans are frustrated and angry and scared. You’ve channeled this into your nomination.
Americans are also good. We’re generous and courageous and kind. That’s what you’ve missed.
The short letter finishes with the basis of Tetrick’s objection to the Trump campaign: its underlying values:
Turning away from you is a way to say who we are.
“His campaign doesn’t reflect basic American values,” Tetrick told CNNMoney. “We can disagree on a lot but there are certain things that everyone does agree with: You should respect women. Immigrants make this country better. We should be civil to each other. The KKK is a group that is the personification of evil. There are these basic things that we don’t need to argue about.” Interestingly enough Tetrick told CNN that the recent death of Elie Wiesel and a quote from his book, Night, was the big impetus for the ad campaign: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Considering Trump’s words, Tetrick reasoned that he couldn’t remain indifferent; he had to speak out in opposition.
The ad has struck a chord with many Americans, with hundreds texting Tetrick to offer their reflections and reactions, based on their own experiences, and their thanks.
The other striking example of what Elie Wiesel was talking about occurred on Twitter. Leslie Jones, the actress starring the new Ghostbusters film who tweets at @lesdoggg, had a distressing series of tweets directed at her by racists who seemed to determined to drive her from the internet. Jones fought back, retweeting some of the worst abusive tweets and images sent to her to shame the senders. She briefly decided to leave Twitter entirely, but eventually she logged back, determined not to let the haters drive her away.
The abuse she received definitely and rightly enraged Jones, but she also clearly understood the basis of the problem beyond her tormentors. She called out Breitbart editor and social media provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos for his incitement of hate speech and separately took Twitter to task for its indifference to abuse on its platform. Twitter suspended Yiannopoulus’ account roughly 24 hours later.
Twitter definitely has an abuse problem, and women and minorities bear the brunt of it. Twitter needs to overcome its apparent corporate indifference. At the very least it needs to pay attention when even non-celebrities report receiving abuse on the site.
[Note: this blog post has been delayed for a good week by computer problems. I hope my shiny new Mac Plus Pro means that my blogging will now be able to resume a regular schedule.]
Listening to a community in pain
I live in Minneapolis, in the midst of a community reeling in the aftermath of the events surrounding the death of Philando Castile in the course of a traffic stop. The people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas are hurting, too. The entire nation is on edge, wondering, When will the killing stop? What will it take for us to feel safe with each other again? What on earth can we do so we’re not hurting each other, tearing each other apart? How can we come together?
This past Sunday, I attended a service of Prayer, Repentance and Recommitment at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran in Saint Paul. The service was led by Presiding ELCA Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, who had rearranged her travel schedule to attend. Pastor Lamont Wells, president of the African Descent Lutheran Association, was also a leader of the service. (Bishop Eaton had previously published a letter in response to the shootings in Orlando, Florida this past June.) Afterward, the congregation gathered at the school across the street (J.J. Hill Montessori where Philando Castile worked as a cafeteria manager) for a final prayer. There were signs posted up on the school entrance with childish handwriting, mourning his loss. Mr. Castile had apparently been a school favorite who knew the names of all of the kids.
Afterward, I walked to the Minnesota Governor’s mansion, where protestors had gathered over the past several days, listening to the speakers. A chalkboard had been set up to one side, and passersby were invited to write on it. A picture I took of that chalkboard leads this blog post. Some people wrote just one word, or two. Some could find no words to express how they felt and drew pictures instead, like the heart with the peace symbol inside. In the face of great emotion, words can seem stumbling and inadequate. It is at those times that perhaps the worthiest use of language it not to try to fill the silence with our own words, but instead to listen to others, particularly the ones who hurt the most.
Are you listening to others, or only to iterations of yourself?
In America today, it’s easy to become trapped within our own media bubbles, only listening to and interacting with people who look like us, with whom we already agree. The Wall Street Journal has created a demonstration of this phenomenon entitled “Red Feed, Blue Feed,” to demonstrate how radically different reality might seem to people, depending upon the media sources from which their Facebook feeds draw.
We need to do more listening. We need to hear and read the words from people who hold different views from us. If you suspect that you have let yourself sink into an echo chamber, where you only hear views like your own, try a site like All Sides. This site, according to their mission statement, “delivers technology and services to provide multiple perspectives on news, issues, and topics – and the people behind the ideas.”
Why not try it? Your reward will be a broader perspective upon the world, which can only help both business and personal relationships.
My name’s Peg Ihinger, and I’m so pleased that you’ve stopped by to check out Worthiest Words.
I’ve been a writer for many years, putting out short stories, essays, and novels. I’ve worked with a virtual nationwide team for seven years to create a collaborative story online that eventually had readers in twenty-five countries. I’ve created business internal newsletters, I’ve blogged for over a decade, and I’ve explored the uses and reach of social media. Recently, as a result of a career transition, I am turning my attention more directly to marketing and the tools it has to offer.
Why “Worthiest Words”?
I chose the name because I want to use what I do best in the service of what’s most important to me, and that’s figuring out the most effective use of words to make the world a better place to live. To me, that means a world that’s:
- More tolerant.
- More just.
- More kind and friendly.
- More verdant.
- More beautiful.
- More healthy.
- More fun!
I’d like to help companies and causes that are working for these purposes by assisting them in finding the persuasive, best-considered words that will be most effective in reaching their goals.
My understanding of the process of writing itself is constantly evolving due to the breadth of my experience, and I hope this blog will continue that evolution. For example, I originally thought that writers were rather like sculptors: tapping away slowly (oh, so slowly!) and painstakingly with their tools (think of a computer keyboard rather than a chisel), trying to cut away the stuff they don’t want to get the perfect underlying shape exactly right. And then polishing, polishing, and polishing some more. The problem with organizing the work of writing around this principle is that it traps you into believing that you only have a single chance to get things right. One careless slip of the chisel could knock off the statue’s finger–and render days of work worthless.
Slowly, however, I’ve changed my mind and come to consider writing as being more similar to working like a potter than a sculptor. Mistakes aren’t the end of the world. Don’t agonize about making a mess with faltering or flat-out wrong first drafts, because you can reshape and re-envision as you go. The most important thing to remember is that you have to start. You can’t do that without putting enough clay on the wheel.
I have an idea of what this blog will be about, but I’m willing to adapt those ideas as I go along. If I make a mistake (and I’m only human so they’ll probably occur), I think it’s important to admit those mistakes.
I’d like this to be a conversation, too. I kept a pen-and-paper journal for over thirty years for my eyes only before I tried blogging. I remember what an odd yet delightful shock it was to write down my thoughts and for the first time, people actually answered back.
So: that’s my introduction. What that means for this site, I’m not exactly sure yet, but I’m happy to figure it out as I go along–with your help. I hope you’ll stop by often!