What we say matters
If you say something, is it always true? Does it matter?
It’s easy to be cavalier about what we say in our everyday life. Usually, there is little consequence to comments we make. We joke. We use sarcasm. What we say sometimes is little more than some kind of sound to fill the void of silence.
These are not normal times. What people, especially leaders, say amidst the pandemic affects others quickly, pointedly, and their ripple effects can strongly touch many others. What is said can mean the difference between life and death.
What leaders say matters
Suzanne Nossel’s article in Foreign Policy, Don’t Let Leaders Use the Coronavirus as an Excuse to Violate Civil Liberties, points out:
The suppression of speech impedes containment of the pandemic, obscures understanding of the crisis and how to prevent its recurrence, impairs the effort to hold accountable the officials who are responsible for managing the threat, and poses a lasting risk to civic health.
The 1857 Truth and Falsehood sculpture by Alfred Stevens shows Truth tearing out the double tongue of Falsehood, pushing aside his mask. It underscores the conflict we witness today as we look to leadership – be it political or scientific – to guide us. Truth will prevail.
Charles Duhigg, in The New Yorker, noted in his article, “Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not” emphasizes the importance of truth:
[Dr. Francis] Riedo is the medical director for infectious disease at EvergreenHealth, a hospital in Kirkland, … told his staff—from emergency-room nurses to receptionists—that, from then on, everything they said was just as important as what they did. One of the E.I.S.’s [Epidemic Intelligence Service] core principles is that a pandemic is a communications emergency as much as a medical crisis.
Pandemics emphasize that what we say matters
Duhigg notes that Epidemiology is a science of possibilities and persuasion, not of certainties or hard proof. He quotes epidemiologist John Cowden:
Being approximately right most of the time is better than being precisely right occasionally. You can only be sure when to act in retrospect.
We often hear the caution that “Words matter”; but it also matters who says them, when they’re said, how they’re said, and why they’re said also matter. Being extra mindful and cautious during this crisis of Covid-19 is an integral part of the emergency response. What leaders say matters just as PPEs matter to emergency responders and as ventilators matter for patients.
Our leaders can unwittingly make a dire situation worse. Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting C.D.C. director and an E.I.S. alumnus, explained:
If you have a politician on the stage, there’s a very real risk that half the nation is going to do the opposite of what they say. … To maintain trust, you have to be as honest as possible. … Right now, everyone is so confused by all the conflicting messages that, each time the guidance evolves, fewer and fewer people might follow it.
Political messaging matters
Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security, at Johns Hopkins, said:
If the response becomes political, it’s a disaster, because people won’t know if you are making recommendations based on science or politics, and so there’s the risk they’ll start to tune out.
The Covid-19 pandemic emphasizes the need for truth and trust; but the need is there all the time. We should expect much from our leaders but the demand ripples out to the rest of us as well. Truth and trust need to surface in our homes and neighborhoods. The demand should bring us together; not divide us.
Truth and trust should also extend to what we say with our voting ballots. Just as what we say matters, so do our votes. Comparing the pandemic to the upcoming presidential election may seem extreme; but many see both as life and death concerns. What we say and how we vote matters.
Sadly, we’ll not hear from most of those who are eligible to vote. Typically, half of these citizens don’t bother. Of those who do, we ignore another 46% of their ballots because of the Winner-Takes-All (WTA) handicap imposed on our Electoral College. As is typical, our next president will be elected by only 12-15% of the eligible voters.
Equal Voice Voting (EVV) removes the WTA problem and ensures that all voters matter. EVV is based on the belief that how we vote in presidential elections matters.
The pandemic is teaching us that we all matter – everyone of us. We cannot afford to neglect any of us. Likewise, the votes we cast should not be ignored, set aside, discarded, relegated to the trash heap, buried in the election chaos.
What we say matters!
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By Jerry Spriggs and the Equal Voice Voting Team