In 2014 I wrote this essay. I’ve updated it to reflect the political season that we are in.
Some of you may be old enough to remember the philosopher, Marshal McLuhan. In the 1960’s he wrote a bestselling book, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. His main point was that the medium is part of the content of the message thereby influencing how the message is perceived.
In political discourse, the public vacillates between the importance of a candidate’s clarity and compelling message, or his or her sincerity. You can work on what people say but you can’t be something other than yourself. Do we vote for people for what they say they believe in or do we vote for them because you believe what they say?
In everyday life there is a similar set of questions. Do I believe in the words you speak or do I find you believable? If you are like me, the belief in the person being authentic trumps (no pun intended) what he or she says. Here is the tough part – one can’t mimic authenticity.
So today, the messenger is becoming the message. We judge the content of the message, in part, by the story we have about the messenger. If we perceive the messenger as honest, sincere and like us, then we are more inclined to have a favorable reaction to the message. Conversely, if we hold a negative story about the messenger, it doesn’t matter what he or she says. We are inclined to disagree or dismiss it (sometimes before it is articulated).
Your message and the intent of your message may be noble and “on point”, but the story the listener has about you will influence what he or she hears and how that person interprets your meaning. So, it is neither the message nor the messenger. Rather, it is the story we have about the messenger that becomes part of the message. Do you know what stories others carry about you?