Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Brief Clarity 

History teaches PR practitioners a great deal. Lately I've been reading a wonderful diary, Mary Chestnut's Civil War, the personal journal of a member of the South Carolina planter class. She knew everyone leading the secession of the South from the Northern states, and she plus a few knowledgeable observers understood the immensity of what the South was doing by going its own way. She saw clearly before the war the outcome, and she hated slavery, as did some others about her. Yet, the firebrands plunged the southern states into conflict that was to ruin that society for more than 100 years.

It struck me that nearly the same thing happened with the current conflict in Iraq. Knowledgeable observers warned the current administration of sectarian violence should Iraq fall, but the firebrands were determined to remove Saddam Hussein. Then, it occurred to me that in nearly all organizations, there is a moment of clarity before major actions when one knows the outcome. Sometimes we know we will succeed. Sometimes we know what we are about to do will not work. But, we feel helpless in the tide of current opinion, so we go along. Eventually, we rationalize ourselves to the organization's point of view. When the end comes, we have forgotten what we knew at the beginning. This appears to have happened to Mary Chestnut as well.

As a PR practitioner, I would like to believe I stand by the facts of a case and that conventional wisdom doesn't affect me much. I know better. When leadership takes a course, I commit to it like everyone else and forget where I stood. Perhaps this is why one should keep a diary or a blog -- to remind oneself of shifting perception. Clarity is often a brief light.


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