In the 1960s, philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote a bestselling book, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. In it, he presented the case that a technological medium, in influencing how a message is perceived, becomes part of the content of that message; it is impossible to separate the two. Building on McLuhan’s theory, I believe the perceptions we have about messengers influence how we interpret their messages in everyday discourse.
In political discourse, the public vacillates between prioritizing a candidate’s clarity and platform and elevating candidates for their sincerity. Do we vote for people for what they say they believe, or do we vote for them because we believe what they say?
In everyday life there is a similar set of questions. Do I agree with what you say, or do I find you believable? If you are like me, your belief in someone being authentic supersedes what he or she says. One cannot mimic authenticity. We judge the content of the message, largely, 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 even before the message is articulated.
Your message and intent may be noble and relevant, but the story each listener has about you will influence what he or she hears and how the person interprets your meaning. In everyday conversations, then, it is neither the message nor the messenger that’s most important; rather, the story we have about the messenger determines the message we hear.
Pushing Your Thinking