I have a curious relationship—and lengthy history—with the concept of language. To start with, I am dyslexic, which among other things, causes me some difficulty with grasping the nuances of writing and grammar– praise be to God for editors! More relevant though, I find the development and use of language to be very interesting as well. The term “politically correct” has slowly entered the lexicon of most Americans in the last few decades. Likewise, I know many people who fall on either side of this love/hate relationship term. I do not mind using alternative terms and phrases in certain situations. I understand the need for prudence around sensitive topics, but not at the expense of detracting from truth. Please forgive the quick history lesson, I promise it ties into the aims of this blog!
I remember the first time I was introduced to the field of public relations. In many ways my first impression is the one I hold today; I am very cautious. The various components of the study of public relations are arguably as old as civilization, yet as a concentrated study it’s a relative newcomer. The Father of Public Relations was a man named Edward Bernays. You may have never have heard his name before, but he has had a huge impact on history. The nephew of Sigmund Freud, he played a significant role in the Woodrow Wilson administration and appears to have had an impact on Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even more surprising to many is that his written works were very influential on—and implemented in— the creation and maintenance of the National Socialist Party in 1930’s-40’s Germany. Though he was not an anti-Semite himself, it seems ironic that the Father of Public Relation was involved in such a huge conflict of interest. He spent the rest of his career consulting for large corporations working to develop the modern fields of advertising and marketing. The name “public relations” is itself seemingly a public relations decision, its initial name—propaganda—fell out of favor with the public due to a negative connotation. Defined partially as “strategic communication,” public relations is still the use of manipulated language to promote a certain bias or agenda. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a very dangerous fire to play with.
What is the Truth?
For better or worse public relations has become engrained in every profession and even in our daily lives. As role models, Christian men are called to speak truth. This applies to sharing the Truth (God Almighty), the truth of the Gospel and telling the truth—the requirement of which proceeds from the former. To do these things is to participate in true charity. How do we allow ourselves to manipulate others with the language we use? This can be at work, in a relationship or even in the confessional. The failure to speak truth does not necessarily result from a lie, but also from deception and the injection of unnecessary ambiguity to obscure it. I would propose to manipulate any truth is to manipulate all the aforementioned truths. I recognize that we need to express ourselves prudentially. But do we as men use our word choice to trick clients, provide excuses to our families, or even in a pathetic attempt to rationalize our sinful actions before our Divine Maker and Judge?
This is not an assault on any who find their careers in public relations, its metaphoric subsidiaries, or employ its insights. But let us call a spade a spade. A bias or an agenda are not always objectively wrong. Yet, any goal, bias or agenda errs when it motivates the falsifying or manipulating of truth for the purposes of deception or smoke screening. I invite each man reading this to reflect on their own word choice or “strategic communication.” Let us be role models and truly charitable even in the way we communicate—always prudent to our audience, yet mindful of truth.