Tuesday, August 16, 2011

the spin doctor within

On the car radio, a man who seemed to be a professional spin doctor, was discussing the current economic downturn with an interviewer. He argued that the situation needed a widely-recognized moniker as a means of providing a common understanding. "Great Recession" was one of the names used in the recent past and there were several others. But he suggested further that a name with less negative connotations was required: Bad-news names tended to bring people down and lessen the spirit necessary to extricating them from their current financial dis-ease. I forget if he actually proposed any names.

On the one hand, names do matter, do inspire, do focus the attention and intention. If the name applied to the economic squeeze is constantly negative, how could it generate a willingness to move forward and escape? You could see the point.

On the other hand, it really is tiring to have spin doctors insisting we are eating filet mignon when there is dog shit on the dinner plate. How can anyone expect to ameliorate difficulties if the willingness to investigate the perhaps-painful aspects of those difficulties is constantly smothered and blurred by upbeat bullshit?

Abraham Lincoln observed approximately, "You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." And, a propos the economic down-turn, author John Steinbeck said that Americans don't like socialism because, "the poor here see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

There is a price to pay for upbeat nostrums. There is a price to pay for looking the devil in the eye. Winston Churchill's soaring rhetoric helped keep a beleaguered world on course to win World War II. But I seriously doubt that his rhetoric had much positive effect on the soldiers in the trenches where men cowered and screamed for their mothers and learned to choke down the horror of killing others.

Upbeat encouragements. Downbeat facts.

And it is the same for individuals. But the difference between individuals and societies is that individuals stand a better chance of doing something about their attitudes towards their own facts and fate. They have the potential to cut through their own spin-doctoring.

This is not to say it is easy. Spin-doctoring and bright lights inspire intention and action. But the same might be said for looking the devil in the eye. How long can anyone put icing on their dog shit before they get tired of their own bright-eyed shenanigans? Yes, fine -- spiritual endeavor holds out some wondrous promises, beautifully woven and spun lights at the end of the tunnel. But then the facts, the day-by-day difficulties raise their heads and promises are not enough.

The hard part about individual effort is, perhaps, that it is just that -- individual. Collective pity parties are not enough -- they are not as consoling as on the social stage. Looking in the mirror is not good or bad or better or worse -- it is just work that an individual might choose to do ... or not. The choice to do the work may be inspired by some spin-doctoring, some Winston-Churchill-like rhetoric, but down in the trenches, it is hard work. A bit of spin-doctoring that may inspire such an effort suggests, "Your life is so difficult that it has never been tried before."

It is individual. Where the bullets fly, spin-doctoring loses its relevance. Individual means individual determination and effort irrespective of the pity parties that may be held up and down the block. Good and bad and heaven and hell and enlightenment and compassion can take a hike. Promises and a couple of bucks will get you a bus ride.

Is there a pot of spin-doctored gold at the end of this individual-effort rainbow?

Maybe. Maybe not. But the effort seems to outshine its spin-doctored alternative. How many lives can anyone lead and what is it that makes that life worth living? How long can anyone insist on gussying up what is right in front of their noses? Pretty long, if history is to be believed. But what history depicts is not necessarily what individuals need to repeat.

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