Kill the messenger.
That’s right, kill him.
Oh. wait. You like the messenger? Well, never mind then.
Lately, in several personal situations and in national controversies, I’m seeing an increasingly annoying tendency to conflate the messenger with the message.
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Maybe it’s because we as a society have become assaulted with too much information, entertainment and just pure noise all at once. It can be too much to sift and sort.
But stop that. Stop it right now. Stop getting hung up and distracted by who delivers the message.
If someone rushed into your building and told you it’s on fire, what you thought or felt about the person might initially affect how quickly you took action. But once your nostrils smelled smoke my guess is that getting out of the building quickly would be your first priority, whether the person yelling “fire” was Kanye West, Brian Williams, Barack Obama or Sarah Palin — or that really annoying mailroom clerk from the fourth floor. (And see, at least one of those names made your thinking shut down for a second, didn’t it?) In the face of imminent harm, the messenger is irrelevant.
But let’s face it, most facts and circumstances don’t involve immediate physical danger. People raise issues all the time, make complaints and assign blame.
And, of course, credibility does matter when you you have conflicting information or facts.
But often there is no conflict, except the conflict between what someone you don’t like or respect says and between what is easier for you to keep believing.
And it becomes a diversity issue — or more accurately a bias issue — when we don’t stop to think why we are discounting the messenger.
Asking yourself a question or two helps.
The first one: Am I actually listening to the message? So often in situations involving workplace discrimination, for example, people have complained about a specific problem or person over a period of time. But they were ignored. Then a formal complaint or a more “likeable” employee raises the same issue and suddenly the exact same problem takes on new light. Now, if the original messenger no longer is in the picture, maybe you don’t get called on it. But if he or she is, suddenly the issue has snowballed.
Second and more important: Ask yourself how much you have brain freeze when the names of certain people so much as come up. Do it. Everyone has that tendency. I do at least daily. But get out of the habit. Someone you despise or don’t respect can occasionally say something you need to hear. And people you idolize can be dead wrong sometimes. Facts do matter. Sometimes even just the perception of facts matters. Listen and don’t always be so quick to argue with or dismiss the information.
Even a broken clock gets the time right twice a day. In the course of a few weeks, that’s a lot of times that clock is correct.
Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook.