I’m working on a sticky community project that requires a lot of multi-level communication with everyone from neighbours to Ministers. My major aim is always to ensure everyone receives consistent key messages so that people can understand and share the crux of an issue. Time and again the theory’s been proven true that most people can accurately remember and reiterate up to three clear points without changing the gist. Remember the kids’ game Chinese Whispers? It’s like that. Sometimes people deliberately reinterpret the message, but mostly people simply filter it differently.
More concerning, I often find that many pivotal people in communities who influence others’ perspectives, e.g. community leaders, school principals, business people, politicians and sports icons, increasingly prefer not to engage, share information or express their own opinion at all within their circles. Many people now choose to remain silent, neutral, on the sidelines and essentially non-committal about any outcome.
As a lifelong student of communication and social change, and a former journo who has interviewed the likes of Qld Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, former PM Paul Keating and journalist Ray Martin, it seems to me that Australians in general have become less vocal over the past 5 decades about many topics – war, human rights, education, our economy, environment and leadership. The days of pointed “no comment” statements have given way to passive “I’d rather not comment” slide-bys.
Our famous laissez-faire, laconic style is legend – but is it useful? Will “she be right” after all, if we’re not saying what we mean and want? There’s a cost in real terms to enabling and embracing a silent majority approach and we see its impacts in many aspects of our culture. Make your voice count I say.
I like this quote by Scottish clergyman Peter Marshall: “Give to us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for – because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything.”