Between Hank Williams Jr. and the Bank of America this week, we’re not sure who made the worst mess – a country singer who compared an American political figure to Hitler or a major institution adding $5 debit fees which prompted a Facebook outcry and customer withdrawals. Even on social media, there’s a time and place to opine.
In the middle of a “you betcha” moment in a car dealer waiting room, one had only to listen to the anger of the banter between two men – one young, one old – to be fearful of what’s happening in this country.
And banks – well – take the money out and bury it in the backyard.
These were real people talking. And these were their real comments. Two strangers sharing a moment agreeing that all is wrong with the country – from conspiracy theories and biased media outlets to blaming politicians for special interest agendas.
Only Williams came out OK in their conversation. Why? Because no one tells him what to say and he says what he thinks. Therefore, he’s his own man.
Maybe. But even a contrite Williams tweeted a bit of an apology after he was sidelined by ESPN, most likely realizing he may have hurt his career and therefore his income and future. Still, it was too late and ESPN, in an official statement today, decided to “part ways” with the singer – while Williams decided to blog that his free speech rights had been trampled.
Words hurt. Words cause damage. Words can also kill as parents of bullying victims can attest. Words should be, and must be, chosen carefully, even if they are used to stir debate.
No doubt the car dealer conversationalists would later say that Williams was put upon by those forces that little people fear the most – the unnamed, unknown men in suits in a board room who secretly decide our collective fates.
Why does candor or bluntness outweigh diplomacy?
Just check out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his nearly hour-long news conference to tell us he wasn’t going to run for president. Media consultant Mark Bernheimer recently wrote that Christie excelled at “authenticity over scripting, and candor over cliches.”
Country singer Williams pulled a page from a similar script to remind his Twitter followers that a publicist was not involved in drafting his tweet. Though we’re pretty sure someone on his team advised him (too late) that not everything needs to be said the way he said it and where he said it.
Still, strong statements have a time and a place. My mentors and elders have been telling me this since I was 12, when I blurted out a criticism of a fellow student’s book report to the entire class. I believed at the time I was only saying what everyone else was thinking, but I could tell by the hurt look on the student’s face it had done damage.
It’s true that we’ve become accustomed to easy phrases that roll off our tongues such as:
I hate …
I can’t stand …
She lies …
I don’t care …
And different generations are getting accustomed to saying these phrases in even stronger terms, using new ways to share them widely in larger and wider forums tapping text, Facebook or Twitter.
I’m not an advocate of censorship, but I am an advocate of self censorship. Let’s all try to be smart enough to determine that what is said to one person sitting in the same room is vastly different than sharing thoughts to a wider audience of diverse interests.
There’s a time and a place.
Consider both before you opine.