Perspective is everything.
The wizened Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi has a telling line in Return of the Jedi. He defends his tale of the Sith Lord Darth Vader murdering Luke Skywalker’s father Anakin by saying, “What I told you is true, from a certain point of view.”
Spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen the Star Wars movies yet, that’s on you.
What does this have to do with public relations? Plenty.
The foundation of truth
People have agendas. Some more so than others. So who and where you get your information from matters. The reality is everyone has fallen short of the truth-meets-accuracy goalpost. The mission becomes how to confirm the foundation of truth in what you are reading, tweeting or watching. Part and parcel of this mission is determining the point of view of the source. Take your political hat and hang it at the door, because despite these last few statements, this blog is not about politics. However, the current political landscape is a highly-charged example of this topic and so it may come up again.
Public relations, while typically not as polarizing as politics, can be similarly disorienting. I recently had a discussion with my colleague Pam Abrahamsson with PRA Public Relations about facts, truth, and trust in today’s public relations landscape. Her advice is to be your own advocate.
Actually, she initially said ‘expert,’ but she immediately pulled the statement back.
“Some people can be overwhelmed by the idea of becoming an expert and you don’t need to be an expert,” Abrahamsson said. “But you do need to keep your best interests in mind and remember everyone has a point of view, their own perspective, which may not align directly with your goals.”
Perspective will influence how you receive facts
As a newspaper reporter and editor, the idea of perspective was in the forefront of what I was doing every day. I would tell my co-workers, writers, and sources the same thing – perspective is everything.
Your background and your interests influence how you see the world. If you can understand someone’s perspective, you can understand their opinions and positions more clearly.
Abrahamsson offered some very similar advice for becoming your own advocate: consume news and information. Read multiple mainstream and business media outlets, non-profit news and news delivery services. Devour information about your topic, business or area of interest whenever you can.
This idea can be applied to both public relations and journalism.
As an information consumer, you must understand the difference between news and opinion. A basic definition of news is ‘what we know to be true at this time.’ Similarly, opinion is ‘this is what I think.’
Trouble is, the lines are getting more and more blurry every day, so, again, you have to be your own advocate. Dig a little deeper. Does this outlet have an agenda? What is that agenda? If you are unsure, look at other sources for their presentation of the same information. Where are they the same? Where do they differ? In the political world, consumers lean on Politifact. Have you ever checked Snopes.com to see if the story you saw about Bigfoot being seen on the Eiffel Tower are true? This is the same thing, but you’ll have to do some of the leg work yourself.
Read opinions you don’t like. This is often the most difficult step for people to take. We all know who we love – be it a Hannity or a Maddow – but listening only to opinions which affirm your belief does not inform your brain.
“You don’t have to agree with dissenting opinions,” Abrahamsson said, “but you should, at the very least, understand them.”
What is your point of view?
In the end, the decision is yours. You have to determine how much weight to give each thread of knowledge to help you make your decision. Having a breadth of facts and opinions from a wide variety of sources can help immensely. The more threads you can weave together, the more detailed your tapestry of information and knowledge.
In the same conversation with the budding Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobi continues, attempting to redeem himself by saying “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”
As an advocate for your business, be it public relations, journalism, or something in between, you owe it to yourself to expand your education and your experience to improve your point of view.