Whatism – a view on life

08 December 2009

There are of course a lot of -isms around. Racism, communism, anarchism, islamism, libertarianism and manicheanism to mention a few. The last one I put in just for fun, stumbled over it in a Wiki post on gnostisism. Anyway, according to Wiktionary, an “ism” is a belief that can be described by a word ending in -ism. But somehow, many isms seems negatively charged. Maybe it is because of a dislike of strong beliefs that cannot be disputed – regardless of what they are.

I am certianly no expert in neither philosofy or linguistics. But lately, after 12 long years in public relations and as a journalist, I’ve started brooding more and more of this apparent desire to make things appear differently from what they are. This seems to be an everpresent driving force making us all strive so hard to disguise what really is. Of course, the basis of PR is to take what somebody wants to say and help them say it in the most attractive possible way, to the right people, through the most appropriate channels, at the best possible time etc.  Everything to maximise the reach and effect of aht is being said. But somehow, along the lines, some of the truth is lost, some lies are added and in the end, what is presented is not what is.

We know that if we tell people what we really think about their sweater we might offend them. If we offer our true opinion on what we think about them, we might cause a lot of problems. If I was to see your face without makeup, I might se what you really look like. If I would smell you without perfume, I might smell the real you. If my client tells the truth about the their somewhat flawed product, maybe no one will buy it?

Social media has brought with it a previously unthinkable level of transparency. It has become easier than ever to find out that a product is flawed by Googling for other customers’ experiences. I might say that I think something is really cool, but my Facebook friends would know it is a lie. Sometimes I discuss top level management around having a private Facebook page and most times, I would recommend against it even though it goes against my belief that everyone should have a page, at least passively.

The thing is that when most people arrive in the office in the morning, they put on a face, slide into a role and play it. This might be conciously or subconciously. I used to work with a girl who I thought I knew pretty well. It was quite a surprise to hear her one day say “you have no idea what I am like when I’m not at work. The me you see here is the job character I play. Isn’t that the same for everyone?” 

Maybe it is so. I don’t feel like I am someone else at work. I sometimes feel I should put on a more professional face and better play the game according to unwritten rules and expectations but common sense goes a long way. So after this somewhat lengthy introduction (in the times of Twittering out semi-nonsense at 140 characters a shot) let me conclude with this:

Things are what they are, I am who I am, you are who you are (and if you have a multiple personality disorder, all of you are who you all are). Don’t pretend, lie or try to play a character who isn’t you. Everyone is different and there are attractive features in everyone and everything. If you are selling bricks you are selling bricks. You are also enabling people to fulfill their dreams of building a nice house. But you are probably not working for peace and the end of starvation.

So don’t say you are because people will eventually see through you. Stay true to yourself and people will grow to trust you. And trust is vital. This is what we could call Whatism. What is, is. It doesn’t mean you should stop striving for “embetterment” as George W. Bush likes to say. If what is, isn’t good enough, make it better. But if you haven’t improved, lying about it doesn’t make it any better. When you have the worst customer service of all companies in a country, investing millions in prime time TV ads bragging about it is definately not the answer. Invest your energy into change rather than cover-up.

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