This newspaper routinely gets press releases from institutions, organizations, communities, and political leaders hoping to clarify some news, television, blog or other report. They are concerned about the convoluted or disorienting messaging found in the prevailing story that, as one local official recently put it, they felt a need “to dispel the misperception by some”.
In this state and around the world, we routinely find ourselves personally as the sole representative of our community. We are asked to tell our story – and perhaps too often, to defend a common opinion about what it is like to be from our place. Some might call Hoosiers obese, bigoted, hate-mongers while others chose words like generous, welcoming, and self-deprecating. Depending on the sources, we could probably find empirical data to support or disprove each of these. So what difference does it make?
Fagan Harris, CEO of Baltimore Corps who calls its mission “restoring a great American city”, advocated passionately at the closing luncheon for CEO’s for Cities in Indianapolis in October about the importance of accurate narratives to sustaining and building communities. He shared how he believed that the rich diversity of neighborhoods that comprise Baltimore was being overshadowed by a discourse established by people who know precious little about that place. It matters, he argues, that leaders work to ensure that the messages are accurate and fair. We needn’t become thin-skinned. But while it may be fun enough to poke fun at our neighbors or ourselves, when these stereotypes are mistaken for truth and repeated they become the story.
If the objective is to build a strong a vibrant place, in competition with all others seeking the same goal, a contrived misunderstanding rarely leads to positive outcome. When does it become our personal responsibility to make sure the message is right?