Happy New Year 2019! If you thought last year was wild, weird and, well, pretty awful, then obviously you were as fixated on the American political scene as I was. And don’t get me started on Brexit! Here’s the thing: 2019 will see the culmination of crazy trends in both realms. If there’s anything we can count on this year, it will be that, as wacko as last year was, this year will be even more so. Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a rough trip, 2019 style. Of course, to top it off and because we’re gluttons for political punishment in the U.S., the 2020 campaign has actually started. As I write this piece, Elizabeth Warren has set up an exploratory committee, the first step of a long journey for us all, as have several other potential candidates with more enthusiasm than practical sense.
I’ll be commenting on the communications aspects of both the American president campaign and Brexit as there are interesting lessons to draw. For now, given the parlous landscape we’re stepping into, here are my five top resolutions to keep us on track during what will almost certainly be Silly Season – 2019 Version.
I resolve to stick to my knitting. I can’t make politicians behave, but I can work with you to push the art and science of good communications forward, so that’s what I resolve to focus on. Let’s agree that we’ll keep our attention – as much as humanly possible – on what we can improve, repair, and investigate usefully. When there’s a train wreck happening outside, it’s impossible not to notice, but it is still our responsibility to do our jobs and keep our loved ones safe.
I resolve to stick to the truth. There’s too much tribal myth-making going on, attempting to pass itself off as fact. We need more than ever to adhere to the standards of factual truth, openness, and authenticity. Let’s all do our best to call out the liars in the public sphere as clearly and dispassionately as we can.
I resolve to stay up to date. With so many politicians in the public sphere slinging mud instead of real debate, we all need to stay current on the realities of events like government shutdowns and possible Brexit referendums. Democracies don’t just happen; they require informed, passionate, and engaged citizenry. That’s us. We can’t just hope that someone else will do the hard work of keeping everyone on the public payroll to account.
I resolve to stay positive. This is a tough one. It’s hard to be positive about a public domain that has become as stupid as the one we’re witnessing now. But in an angry age you stand out by spreading enthusiasm and love rather than the hate that’s going on all around you. So for me, hope is a strategy this year.
I resolve to bear witness. I’m in airports a good deal, so I often see that annoying sign, “If You See Something, Say Something.” It always starts me down a path of mental dialogue that has me witnessing the TSA yelling rudely and pointlessly at casual fliers who are unused to the systems and asking myself, “Am I supposed to say something about this?” Or more rarely, when I see unexpectedly decent behavior from a flight attendant under stress responding to an angry passenger with grace, “Am I supposed to call this out?” We all see a lot of both kinds of behavior in our daily work. Let’s agree to call out the good and the bad for what they are. We all need both moral outrage and inspiration to keep us going and centered in these absurdist times.