At the Page Spring Seminar last week, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman said his summary of the current state of America, in a sentence that sounds “almost like English was my second language”: “Country not right.” Hard to disagree. In fact, maybe one could say, “World not right.”
Friedman’s take is that too many people are experiencing the worst of emotions – humiliation – caused in significant part by rapid changes driven by technology, demographics, climate and other factors that leave them feeling they are not at home in their own country.
Fellow panelist Nancy Gibbs, former editor of Time magazine and now director of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, noted that division and disinformation are good business. Too many in politics and media are incented to benefit from making people feel threatened.
It’s been several years since Sebastian Junger spoke at a Page Annual Conference about his book, “Tribe – On Homecoming and Belonging,” but I have not forgotten his lessons about the need for all humans to feel that they belong, and that, too often, the sense of belonging is enhanced by being a part of a group defined by excluding others.
Friedman and Gibbs, interviewed expertly by Page’s own Don Baer of Brunswick Group, both saw a role for business to play in setting things right.
Friedman referenced his previous thinking about Brandi Carlile’s lyrics that “You can dance in a hurricane, but only if you’re standing in the eye.” His point: People need a safe place where they feel at home as the change swirls around them, and he called on business to help. He specifically cited the need for complex adaptive coalitions in which business, government and non-profits work together to build trust, community by community. He’s written about this before.
Gibbs focused on the need for multi-disciplinary solutions as well, applauding those who have learned to “lead from beside” and to strengthen connectedness by leaning into the truth. The Shorenstein Center, which she leads, has created a Media Manipulation Casebook, “a research platform that advances knowledge of misinformation and disinformation and their threats to democracy, public health, and security,” which can serve as a resource for Page members, whom she called the “essential workers of the infodemic.”
I disagree with Friedman’s statement that “business has disappeared,” because I see businesses stepping up in new and meaningful ways. But I agree with both Gibbs and Friedman that business can do more, and applaud the CCOs who are combatting disinformation and helping their enterprises put societal value at the center of their missions and purposes.
Understanding the allure of disinformation and division and combatting that by building effective inclusionary policies and practices within our enterprises and more broadly in society is an imperative that goes to the sweet spot of the strategic communications leader. We can help our enterprises make sure everyone feels valued and included.
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