How can we convince anyone of anything? The great divide

Will the massive marches across the country and around the world this weekend convince anyone of anything? Or will they just scare the bejeezus out of people who don’t quite understand what’s going on?

will this convince anyone?
42nd Street, looking East from Grand Central, photo by my friend Liz

Saturday I marched through the concrete canyons of New York with 300,000 of my closest friends. We made a lot of noise as we inched (literally) along the streets of Midtown. Actually “inched” may give you the wrong impression about our progress. It took me two hours to travel the 1/6th of a mile from 1st Avenue and 47th Street to 2nd Avenue and 47th Street. According to my calculations, that’s a speed of about 0.08 mph. Normal walking speed is 3-4 mph. No wonder my knees still hurt.

My favorite chant—great cadence and a perfect rhyme:

“Build a fence
Around Mike Pence”

People carried signs—too many signs, too many messages for me to remember any one clearly. But the spousal unit showed me a photo of one, maybe from the Washington, DC march, that said something like:

“It’s so bad, even INTROVERTS are out here.”

To me, one of the most striking features of the march was its demographic diversity. I saw members of at least five generations: The World War II generation—a gentleman near me identified himself as being 90 years old— Baby Boomers, who seem to have prime responsibility for this calamity of an administration; Gen X; Millennials; and the youngest ones, Gen Z. At the train station I spotted three generations of women in the same family, all of them wearing pink knitted “pussy” hats—even the baby in the stroller.

Surely if opposition to what’s going on unites us across generations, we can actually do something about it.

Can marches convince anyone?

I vividly remember seeing my first march. During the Vietnam War students from the college down the street held a candlelight vigil and processed silently down the sidewalk across from our house.

My father turned off all the lights and lowered the blinds, ordering me to keep away from the windows (naturally, I disobeyed). He saw grave danger in the very orderly procession of a couple hundred college students. Young as I was, I knew he had them all wrong.

The scale and decibel level of Saturday’s march would have frightened my father even more. Then again, he might well have decided to join it. After all, he was a Republican back when Republicans resisted Communist influence. Doesn’t that seem quaint nowadays?

Marches are great for making a statement—and I believe the millions of us who turned out made a very strong and clear statement Saturday. But, really, can marches convince anyone to change their mind?

From “social media” to social interactions

Chanting slogans—even clever ones—is no substitute for conversation. And conversation—the one-on-one exchange of information—is where we’re going to get the most lasting traction.

It’s great that we’ve gotten away from the computer and into the streets. And massive action feels so good—it’s important to know you’re not alone. But studies have long shown that people become more supportive of LGBT rights, for instance, if they know an actual LGBT person. So I think we still need to fight these battles at the holiday dinner table. In tens of millions of conversations. Exhausting? Of course. But essential. And a lot easier on the knees than marching.

And so we return to the question many people—including me—have been asking since the election:

How can we talk to each other, instead of at each other?

More tomorrow.

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More from the PR Thesaurus: Cars and politics

I ran into another entry from the PR thesaurus today. And I didn’t even recognize it. That’s how powerful the PR thesaurus is—even someone who pays close attention to words can get tripped up by it.

“You qualify for the accelerated [something-or-other] program!” The lady from my car insurance agency sounded positively pleased. Yesterday my little car met a pickup truck under very unfortunate circumstances. The lady taking my claim made “qualifying” for this program sound like quite the honor. I was almost pleased. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be “accelerated”?

Still, my spidey-sense for euphemism started tingling: “Accelerated program? Is that something we’ve paid for in our insurance package?”

“Oh, no!” The lady on the phone still sounded perky. “It’s just a service we provide to save on storage fees. We’ll tow your car to our lot, where our claims specialist can look at it, and then we’ll get it fixed at the body shop of your choice.”

I bought it—hook, line, and accelerator. Even when she explained that I would have to go retrieve my personal belongings and license plates before they accelerated my car into their lot.


my car got hit by a truck; I got hit by the PR thesaurusIt wasn’t until I saw the car in person that I realized she’d been using the PR thesaurus.

The perky insurance lady knew before we’d even finished our call that I’d totaled the poor thing. Or rather that the pickup that T-boned me had totaled the poor thing. The “accelerated” program will accelerate my car right into the car-smushing machine.  Great car, though, that Honda Fit. The only damage in the passenger cabin was a broken armrest. Requiescat in pacem.

I’m not sure why the insurance company employed its PR thesaurus on me. Why couldn’t the rep just say, “Hon, it sure sounds like your car is totaled. We’ll be sending you a check; start picking out your next car”?

It’s a benign euphemism. Still, I don’t like thinking my car insurance company is taking me for a ride.

Politicians & the PR thesaurus: “Bordering on madness”

This past weekend, Donald Trump’s surrogates fanned out on all the political talk shows to defend his tweeted claim that he won the popular vote, “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

Well, “defend” is not quite the right word. Because how can you defend a flat-out lie?

not from the PR thesaurus
Refresher course: the Merriam-Webster definition of “lie.”

So the Trumpkins danced around it, they obfuscated, they changed the subject. Or, as MSNBC put it, they

“embraced a post-modern debate about the inherent value and meaning of truth.”

Excuse me? I guess that translates as, “Yes, we’re lying. But why are you so hung up on this ‘truth’ thing, anyway.”

This is one of the scariest things I’ve read—and Lord knows there are a lot of scary things being written about these days.

If we allow words to be corrupted to the point where they lose their meaning, if we allow ethical behavior like truth-telling to become subject to debate—what will we have left? How will we convey information? Why should anyone believe what we say? It is indeed, as MSNBC put it,

“…bordering on madness.”

Here’s more from the article. You can’t make this stuff up, folks:

“Pence’s mind-numbing appearance yesterday was practically Orwellian. Reminded that Trump made a false statement about factual evidence, Pence characterized it as an ‘opinion’ – which doesn’t make any sense since there’s nothing subjective about Trump lying about the scope of voter fraud. Urged to defend Trump’s falsehood with facts, Pence tried to characterize lying as ‘refreshing.’

“Forget politics for a moment. There’s simply nothing sane about approaching reality this way.”

This goes way beyond spin. This is how gaslighting begins. Keep your wits about you, folks. And beware the PR thesaurus and its evil twin, the political one.