I watched Barak Obama deliver his State of the Union address the other night.
Love him or hate him, strongly agree or violently oppose his every word, view him as the saviour of a nation or the reincarnation of Captain Destructo, there is one irrefutable fact about this man – he is a master story teller.
!n 1964 Marshall McLuhan published his superb book, ‘Understanding Media: The extensions of Man,’ in which he introduced the world to that famous quote for which he is best remembered.
He said “the medium is the message” and in doing so he essentially spanked the world for not paying attention to another fine saying that has been around forever, “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”
President Obama gets this. Whenever he delivers a speech (actually, reads a speech as his critics are fond of pointing out), he breathes life into every word he utters. He speaks with passion, conviction, humour and eloquence. He engages his audience with his considerable charisma and charms them with his folksy, self-deprecating pokes at his own foibles. He comes across as human and likeable and has a knack for making everything he says seem so very credible.
People like him and I’ve always believed that being liked is the first step to being supported.
In essence, he is a master audience pleaser. He is the U.S. Rabble Rouser in Chief.
Now let’s turn our attention to local politics.
Here in our beautiful province we have three duly elected party leaders.
In their previous lives, the ones in which they actually had to deliver value in order to receive a paycheque, they toiled as a farmer, a doctor and a bus driver with a surprising interest in union affairs.
There must be a joke in there, somewhere.
I have watched them come into my living room and tell me how they represent everything that is right in this world and how the other two represent pure evil.
I have listened to their performance and cannot help comparing them to Barak Obama. Clearly they have not heeded Mr. McLuhan’s message.
They just don’t get it. They tell their stories with all the passion of a mannequin. They cumulatively have the charisma of a doorknob.
They could hire a baboon to read their speeches with no fear of reduced impact. And baboons are interesting to look at.
And we wonder why apathy reigns supreme when it comes to local politics.
None of them are inspirational enough to lead a group in silent prayer.
A dear friend of mine taught me a powerful truth a long time ago. She said that everyone has value, even if their value is simply to serve as a good example of a bad example. And when these three attempt to tell their stories they exemplify the words “bad example.”
Each of them would have to upgrade their ‘sales’ performance significantly just to achieve the rating of ‘pathetic.’
But all is not lost. As always, I have a plan.
Let’s put these three to work in our health care system. Specifically in the OR’s.
Let’s use them to replace those anaesthesiologists who do little other than knock the patient out before surgery commences and then sit around reading Harry Potter until everyone else has done their job. For this they receive princely sums of money.
Here’s how my plan will work.
- We fire all the anaesthesiologists.
- We wheel the patient into the OR and strap him/her to the table, making escape impossible.
- For reasons that will shortly become obvious, the surgical team is required to wait outside.
- We bring in one of our above mentioned inspiring ‘leaders.’
- The patient is forced to listen to the politico’s latest sleep inducing speech.
- The patient’s brain, as a defense mechanism, shuts down and enters a deep, self induced coma.
- The surgical team, who are required to be conscious during surgery hence the requirement to wait outside, enters the OR and performs the necessary surgery.
- The taxpayers save thousands of dollars.
- These dollars are turned over to these same politicians with one non-negotiable condition imposed. They cannot waste them as they have before. No. They must discover new and creative ways to waste them.
The point of all of this is that Marshall McLuhan was absolutely right. We are far more impacted by the medium with which a message is delivered to us than by the content of the message.
If this were not true then actors would not spend much time rehearsing the delivery of their lines. Instead they would simply stand centre stage, script in hand, and read their lines in their best impression of a politician’s monotone.
To a sea of empty seats.
By far the best definition of communication I have ever seen comes from one of the many useful presuppositions of Neuro Linguistic Programming. It says that “the meaning of my communication is the response I get.”
Contained therein is a powerful lesson for all of us. Much of our success (or absence thereof) in life will come from our ability to be convincing in our communication. These are learnable skills and as with all things in life, there are two potential prices we can choose from for learning these skills.
There is the price we will pay for learning them.
And there is the price we will pay for not learning them.
Our three politicians each pay a heavy price for not learning these skills.
Which price are you paying?
By the way, did you hear the one about the farmer, the doctor and the bus driver who go into a bar …?
Till we read again.