Why Words Matter
Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.
If each of us, most particularly our political leaders, were to treat words as eggs, perhaps we wouldn’t feel as if we are enduring a perpetual storm of slime. This phenomenon is even more pervasive during election season and it is no more evident than in the comments by Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin and his reference to “legitimate rape.” The underlying question in his defiant stand against the Republican establishment’s call for him to step down—was this a verbal gaffe or an indication of a deeply held belief?
The question of verbal missteps on the stump has been rampant during the campaign of Governor Romney and to a lesser extent with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Everyone who speaks publically has (or soon will) stumble over words, tangle ideas or simply sound absurd. Everyone knows when the mistake is superficial and the result of thinking and speaking not being in sync. The other more insidious blunder is when a person’s true feelings are revealed despite one’s best attempts to keep them hidden. In the case of Congressman Akin, I believe this is a case of the latter rather than the former.
In the Akin example, the deception was exacerbated by his defense of the statement statement: “Akin has repeatedly said he misspoke and apologized for the comments, even as he touted support from a top anti-abortion leader who promoted such views.” Does anyone truly feel that he doesn’t believe that “legitimate rape” exists and that what he is really sorry about is that these beliefs are now in the public spotlight? When a candidate tries to hide his or her values from people they have an interesting way of coming out at the most inopportune times—creating a real gaffe.
The challenge for the public is how to discern a tightly crafted message meant to obscure a candidate’s values from the sincere, although perhaps sometimes flawed expression, of what a candidate deeply believes. Three tools for critical listening can help voters decide who’s in their integrity and who isn’t are:
- Is the candidate real? We all know what an authentic person looks like. They are open, engaging, relaxed, sincere and eager to connect with other people in a meaningful way. Can you connect with the candidate? If they are being real, you will experience that feeling regardless if you meet him in person or not.
- 2. Can you identify three core beliefs held by the candidate? When leaders are comfortable with who they are, they easily communicate their core beliefs to other people because it is the foundation for all their actions and deeds. If you can’t easily articulate three key beliefs of a candidate the problem is likely that they don’t know what they are either.
- 3. Does his or her body language and voice support the words they are speaking? Our eyes tell us so much about the veracity of what a person is saying. Do their actions amplify their language or are they at odds with words? Is a person stiff and uncertain or are they comfortable in their own skin. Let your visual impressions be a check on what you are hearing.
The question for Missouri voters is not only what they think about the revelations of Congressman Akin’s true values, but also how they feel about his original intent to keep these values out of the public eye. This is example is one of many similar circumstances that is being played out in elections across the country this fall. The only way we will put a stop to smoke-and-mirrors is to step up our engagement in the process and truly discern the authentic from the inauthentic.
Ultimately the leaders we need in this country that are confident in who they are, to openly share that with the people they hope to serve. When the day arrives, perhaps we can shift the discussion of our campaigns to the values they hold rather than be constantly dodging the eggs they are dropping.