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With over 25 years of experience in the media industry at companies, such as Condé Nast, Lionsgate, CBS, Viacom, Discovery and Hasbro, Joanna Dodd Massey, Ph.D., MBA is an experienced C-level communications executive and Board Director. She has managed brand reputation, corporate turnaround, crisis communications and culture transformation. Currently, she serves as a consultant, who advises clients on communicating with Millennial and Gen Z employees, consumers, and investors. She is a corporate speaker and trainer, as well as author of the upcoming book, “Culture Shock: Surviving Five Generations in One Workplace” (in stores on May 19, 2020).
Disney cut ties with YouTube star PewDiePie after a Wall Street Journal article revealed anti-semetic content in his videos. Comedian Kathy Griffin was ostracized and fired from CNN as co-host of their New Year's Even show after tweeting a photo of herself with a bloody, severed prosthetic head resembling Donald Trump. Outspoken conservative Roseanne Barr was publicly shamed and her show was canceled after Barr tweeted a comparison of Democrat Valerie Jarrett to “Planet of the Apes.”
Within hours of Barr’s Tweet, Channing Dungey, the African-American president of ABC, canceled “Roseanne,” which was the most popular show on network television at the time.Barr later explained that the reference was actually her speaking out against anti-Semitism and it was not meant to be racist. She’s allowed to have her opinions, but her taunting and derogatory language then led others to attack her saying there can be no tolerance for racism.
People should speak out. When you see something, say something. The problem is not that people objected to these "jokes" (all three claimed they were joking and their posts were taken too seriously). The problem is the damning manner in which it all happened.
The reality is that racism and hate exist in this country and ignoring it is not making it go away. In all of these cases, friends, family and co-workers had an opportunity to educate and inform Griffin and Barr and others like them. Instead, we blamed, shamed and ostracized.
Do you know what happens to people when you bully them and tell them they are wrong, bad or stupid? We do not learn and grow. In fact, we regress. We dig into our positions deeper, because blaming and shaming makes us defensive and angry. It also makes it harder for us to see another person’s perspective.
It used to be that the nuns in Catholic schools paddled students or rapped their knuckles with rulers. You may have noticed that we no longer teach children by physically harming them or shaming them in the classroom. Why? Because it does not work. People do not learn by being embarrassed, ridiculed and banished.
A Washington Post story a year after the tweeting incident indicated that Barr and her family firmly believe that she was fired for her political beliefs. It does not take a psychologist to realize that there is no change in understanding on either side. Chalk that up to another lost opportunity to up-level the conversation around racism, as well as around freedom of speech and the responsibility that comes with it.
Some opinions can never be changed. There are people who hold steadfastly to beliefs that seem immovable. But are they? How can we understand each other if we do not speak to each other? How can we educate and inform, if we are only feeding what we already know and believe?
When we relate to other people, we have a shared experience that comes from understanding and sympathizing. People on opposite sides of a political issue can disagree and still get along with each other. They can even come together on some issues for the greater good.
Look at Republican John McCain. He was a respected Republican Senator from Arizona, who held his position for 30 years, until his death in 2018. He was known for his temper and also for his fairness. He was a conservative, who believed in equality of all U.S. citizens. He fought hard for what he believed in, but he also compromised.During John McCain’s funeral in 2018, former U.S. President Barak Obama, a Democrat, said the following, “We didn't advertise it, but every so often over the course of my presidency, John would come over to the White House and we'd just sit and talk in the Oval Office, just the two of us. We would talk about policy, and we'd talk about family and we'd talk about the state of our politics. And our disagreements didn't go away during these private conversations -- those were real and they were often deep. But we enjoyed the time we shared away from the bright lights.And we laughed with each other, and we learned from each other. And we never doubted the other man's sincerity or the other man's patriotism, or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team. We never doubted we were on the same team. For all of our differences, we shared a fidelity to the ideals for which generations of Americans have marched and fought and sacrificed and given their lives. We considered our political battles a privilege, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those ideals at home and do our best to advance them around the world.” (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/john-mccain-funeral-barack-obama-eulogy-transcript/)
Today, lives and livelihoods are destroyed in minutes, because we are quick to assume the worst, pass judgement, and react with anger and vitriol on social media. Yes, social media has given the public a voice that we did not previously have. And thanks to the internet with its multitudinous chat group, blogs and websites dedicated to every topic under the sun, there are no longer gatekeepers to freedom of expression. We no longer have to rely on newspapers, TV news, radio shows, celebrities or politicians to be heard. We can do it peer-to-peer on the internet and on social media, for everyone in the world to witness.
BUT this unencumbered freedom comes with great responsibility, which I would argue many of us are not exercising. I am talking about our emotional intelligence and social interactions.
The changes I am talking about to up-level our emotional-social interactions are about progress, not perfection. Imagine this scenario in business or on Twitter: Instead of reacting from defensiveness and anger while wagging our finger, what if we examine the other person’s belief systems and our own belief systems?
What if we ask the other person why they believe what they believe instead of attacking them for believing it?
Instead of acting impulsively and assuming the worst in people, what if we assume the best?
What if we allow both sides to speak and to be heard?
What if the woke policies that now permeate business and academia are allowed to stay, but we let go of the rigid no-tolerance policies that do not allow for people to be human, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes?
An example of how you can influence people by dealing with them calmly and compassionately is the well-publicized case of Megan Phelps-Roper, the granddaughter of the famous founder of the Westboro church, which is known for picketing everything from sporting events to military funerals and protesting the LGBTQ community, Islam and politicians, among many other groups. She became one of the most powerful voices for the church via social media, until her ongoing conversations with opponents over Twitter led her to question her belief system. Eventually, she and her younger sister made the decision to leave the Church — and therefore become disowned by their family. The New Yorker wrote an extensive story on Phelps-Roper, who married one of the men whom she had befriended—and goated—on Twitter. Condé Nast and Reese Witherspoon’s company are making a movie about it.