Saturday, May 24, 2008

Intent v Impact

Hillary references the California Primary 40 years ago as an example of nomination races going deep into June before they decided. Barak, trying to accommodate an anxious reporter says "just a minute sweetie." Both need to apologize within the day. Damage control becomes the priority. What's happening here?
Teachers know all too well the fine line between intent and impact. Every inflection of the voice, every use of a word that's OK under these circumstances but definitely not OK under those is suspect. Only the speaker knows what she meant. Yet, it's inevitable in the current climate that anyone and everyone is going to be held accountable by the Impact Nazis.
It is not about being "politically correct." It's about being correct. If somebody goes to a Sen. Clinton rally with a sign saying" iron my shirts" that's sexism. If someone makes a statement purporting to explain why white people or black people or Indian or Latino or Asian people are this way or think that way or vote this way or look that way, that's racism. Granted, the institutionalized forms of racism and sexism and ageism, et. al. are more difficult to delineate for many, but they too need to be separated from their intent.
Do you think Barak Obama was ever called sweetie by anyone? Do you think he uses the term with his wife and children? Do you think I am not the only person that knew exactly what Hillary Clinton meant when she spoke about RFK's win in the California primary in June of 1968?
Here's a thought: Maybe we could train people to play the role of communication facilitator. They'd be like referees; could even wear black and white striped shirts. Then when someone makes a statement where impact might supersede intent, the whistle would blow.
"Sen Obama, you are not talking to your kids, perhaps a better word choice is in order."
"Thanks ref, just a minute, Ms. I'll answer your question after I answer this one."
"Acceptable, continue."
Sen. Clinton, referencing the assassination of Robert Kennedy is probably in poor taste; rephrase your comments please"
"No see I was talking about nomination races that run well into or beyond June and in '68 the California primary...
"Deal with it now or deal with it later, Senator, people do not care about your intent now, it's the impact that will cause you undo harm."
"OK, I apologize, (what am I apologizing for? Oh yeah, I'm old enough to reference RFK as a viable candidate, not an assassinated martyr)
As the saying goes, "when you least expect it, you're elected..."
Smile, the Impact Nazis have your thoughts in a vice.

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