Final Digital Presentation

Folks:

Below is the vlog about my Inquiry Project Paper, titled “Web of Conspiracy: Conspiracy Theories as Abusive Political Discourse.” Hope you enjoy.

As always, your feedback is welcomed.

Thanks, Adam

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Sweet Music

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Most of my learning about communications ethics literacy to date has happened at the intersection between theories and real life experiences, primarily at work and in the community. I suppose that is as it should be. But the readings this week provided another unexpected nugget of inspiration: music.

“One cannot force oneself to be a good musician, but if one continues to play and learn content, every now and then emerges a moment between the player and content that takes the music to a place not known before. One cannot demand such revelation, but without the hard work and practice on the content, no revelation will happen.”
(Arnett et al., 2009, pp. 224-225)

JPR
An autographed photo from Rampal, when he visited our home to hold a master class

In the distant past, I was a serious flute player. Studied privately with a renowned teacher for the better part of a decade, gave concerts, played in various ensembles including the Charlotte Youth Symphony, all-state band and orchestra, and a group called the Charlotte Flute Choir. Once I got to perform for Jean-Pierre Rampal, one of the greatest professional players of all time, in a master class in my family’s living room.

This is all ancient history, as I haven’t picked up my flute in any significant way since shipping out for college. But the visceral memories of playing are still there, and fortunately they include a few revelatory ones to which the statement above alludes. Certainly playing for Rampal was one of them.

The relevance for communications ethics literacy relates to intentionality of effort. Just as with music, meaning will only come from a concerted (pun intended) effort to apply and share what I have learned. In other words, I have to work at it.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 9.15.40 AMThere are some basic lenses that I can peer through to actualize learnings in contexts beyond my studies, such as work, community, family and personal life. For example:

  1. It’s not all about me.
  2. Feed me more narratives, Seymor.
  3. Respect the Other.

These and other guideline are designed to facilitate the communicative good of dialogue, which is vital to discernment. “Dialogue requires that one know the ground from which one speaks, meet the other with a willingness to learn, and learn about the ground from which the Other’s discourse emerges (Arnett et al., 2009, p. 223).” The imperative of a dialogic ethic in all manner of interactions can’t be understated, especially where conflict or disagreement exists.

BAD news: Given the timing of this post, Donald Trump is top-of-mind.

GOOD news: He’s perfect fodder for proving my point.

TrumpTo me, Trump is the antithesis of communications ethics literacy. His most recent statements about prohibiting all Muslims from entering the United States represent an diametrically opposing praxis (been dying to use that term!) for achieving a dialogic ethic.

Following are Trump’s variations on the guidelines above:

  1. It’s only about me. The Donald is primarily motivated to grab attention for himself and “defeating” others in business, politics and his personal life.
  2. My narrative is the only one that counts. He’s not interested in any  story that doesn’t support his worldview. Trump cited Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an example of a beloved and respected leader who advocated a similar position to his about Muslims when FDR interned U.S. citizens of Japanese and German descent during World War Two. He ignores the fact that FDR’s policy is regarded as an infamous example of racism and abuse of Constitutionally-protected rights of our citizens.
  3. Dis-respect the Other. Trump revels in insulting and belittling those who disagree with him. He frequently describes President Obama and other elected leaders as “losers” and “idiots,” made fun of a reporter with a physical disability, and sneered at the appearance of Carly Fiorina, one of his presidential nominee opponents.

In my professional, community and personal endeavors, seeking dialogue is standard operating procedure for resolving conflict, building consensus, or otherwise working toward mutually beneficial outcomes. More often than not, this is a worthwhile exercise. But it rarely produces something extraordinary or transcendent, an interaction that represents the highest form of communications ethics literacy. Fortunately I’ve had a few revelatory experiences in my life as a musician and otherwise — the ones that marked me indelibly and helped shape me as a communicator, leader and person. With the academic grounding from my studies, I hope there will be more.

Reference:

Arnett, R.C., Harden Fritz, J.M. and Bell, L.M (2009). Communication ethics literacy: dialogue and difference. California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

A Life Well Lived

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 11.32.09 PMIn the many condolence messages that my siblings and I received after my dad died, “a life well lived” was a description often used by his friends and colleagues. Recalling the care for dad as his health failed, it occurred to me that this theme applied not just to the nature of dad’s life’s experience, but the health care communication ethic that characterized the end of that life well lived.

Dad died in April of this year from complications from lymphoma. My mom had died 15 months before, and the communicative actions involved in that experience set an important precedent for how we addressed dad’s illness. The situation was complex, reflecting the distinctive personalities and styles of two elderly parents, six opinionated children, and assorted in-laws and grandchildren. My strong-willed mother refused to accept her increasing physical and mental limitations, and my dad was hesitant to intercede out of fear of causing additional emotional and physical damage to her already frail condition. Both understood yet neither would consciously accept the“final reality” that she was dying. As a result, mom lost the ability to choose the manner in which she would “meet the inevitable” and achieve the communicative good in her care situation  (Arnett et al., 2009, p. 195).

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My parents’ behaviors were communicative actions that made it difficult for them to achieve quality of life, and for us to render effective care for her leading up to her death. Although my siblings and I were largely unified in our approach, a collective lack of experience and understanding hindered our effectiveness as well. The day that mom died was especially hard, as she was unwilling or unable to clearly tell us what she wanted to happen, leaving us frustrated and upset.

Although the end of mom’s life was largely unsettling, we learned a great deal from the experience that was beneficial when my dad began to decline months later. By and large, my siblings and I followed principles of health care communication ethics. Foremost, we were all committed to his care, comfort and quality of life, exhibiting the essential human trait in our desire to undertake “the Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 11.40.25 PMlabor of care (as) a necessity of our identity” (Arnett et al., 2009, p. 200). We were remarkably unified, with few disagreements about decisions and mutual support for each other emotionally. We each took responsibility for different aspects of supporting and caring for dad, from preparing his meals to accompanying him to medical appointments to having dinner with him most every night. Regular conference calls, emails and texts helped us coordinate and strategize support on his behalf, reflecting the “how” to answer the “why” of providing his optimal quality of life (p. 201).

Dad jokingly nicknamed his six children “the committee” to signify the degree to which we had rallied around him and taken responsibility fScreen Shot 2015-12-06 at 12.04.05 AMor his care. Daily interaction between him and us and among committe members reflected a dialogic ethic comprised of “listening, attentiveness, and negotiation” (Arnett et al., 2009, p. 205). This constant giving and receiving of care represented the good inherent in the “pragmatic
necessity of response, readying ourselves for the final freedom – our response to the inevitability of death” (p. 197).

In stark contrast to what happened with mom, I don’t think there was anything we could or would have done differently for dad at the end of his life. He felt nurtured and prepared for what he faced. His death left us profoundly sad of course, but there also was peace and the ability to see and celebrate a life well lived. Ethical communicative practice had a lot to do with that positive outcome.

Reference:

Arnett, R.C., Harden Fritz, J.M. and Bell, L.M (2009). Communication ethics literacy: dialogue and difference. California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Overcoming Cultural Dissonance

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As an organization, a faith community has multi-dimensional views of what constitutes the “good” that it aspires to reflect. Some constituents may define it as tending to the emotional and spiritual needs of the congregational flock, while others may interpret the good as integration with and serving the broader community. Fulfilling the teachings of the Torah, Bible or other sacred texts may constitute the good to others, and still others may interpret it as maintaining a well managed, fiscally sound organization that represents responsible stewardship of the community’s collective resources.

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Myriad stories reflect these and other diverse perspectives to form the community of memory, connecting learnings from the past through the present to inform the unseen future of the organization. By virtue of its role in interpreting information and making decisions that have broad cultural implications, the leadership of the faith community, in the form of the board of trustees or equivalent, is at the nexus of this continuous transformation.

I once served on a task team that was charged by our board with updating and amending the congregational by-laws. One of the chief tasks was to reduce the number of trustees. Leading up to this assignment, a strategic planning process had determined that the board’s size was encumbering its ability to make decisions and conduct the Temple’s affairs effectively.

Our team recommended a systematic reduction in the number of at-large board members during subsequent nominating classes, and elimination of permanent reserved slots for the presidents of three affinity groups Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 7.28.50 PMwithin the congregation. These groups represented three large and influential demographic segments, the Brotherhood for men, the Sisterhood for women, and SPICE (“Special Programs of Interest and Concern to Elders”) for seniors. Our reasoning was that most board members were members of at least one of the groups, and thus, the interests of the groups were already being served. The benefit to having their leaders on the board was superseded by the organizational imperative of reducing the size of the governing body.

The negative reaction from these groups and their agents was loud and emotional, and constituted a rhetorical interruption within the temple. Their leaders, citing the importance of the respective groups to the congregation, Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 7.04.25 PMmaintained that not only was the “routine” of their appointment appropriate, but our suggestion was an affront. The situation was exacerbated by perceptions
among Brotherhood leaders that the board did not adequately acknowledge their group’s volunteer and financial support for the congregation. Ultimately the board approved our recommendation to reduce at-large seats but rejected the other suggestion, largely as a result of a vigorous lobbying by the Brotherhood and SPICE. (The Sisterhood was ambivalent.)

In hindsight, I believe we adhered to several ethical communications behaviors to mitigate the rhetorical interruption – although we didn’t know it at the time (Arnett et al., 2009, p. 163)! The task team  met with the leaders of each group to explain our reasoning, and held “town hall” style meetings with the congregation. Although neither activity was particularly pleasant for us, both represented attempts to listen without demand and be attentive to the situational dynamics and the ground of the Other(s).

But had we followed the dictates of dialogic ethics more closely, there may have been a different outcome. For example, we might have leaned less Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 7.03.25 PMtoward “telling” about our reasoning and more to learning from the Other in the moment, thus serving the need for reflective understanding of communicative action in the given situation. The history of these groups’ representation on the board was an important contextual element, to which we clearly did not give adequate regard. We certainly were open to compromise from the outset, but making a proposal instead of engaging in dialogic negotiation probably “poisoned the well” in terms of building trust.

I guess we should have seen it coming. Pragmatism and sound reasoning alone are not enough to win the day; when it comes to organizational and intercultural communications, the soft skills of listening, attentiveness, and dialogic negotiation define ethical competence, and enhance the likelihood for success (Arnett et al., 2009, p. 152).

Reference:

Arnett, R.C., Harden Fritz, J.M. and Bell, L.M (2009). Communication ethics literacy: dialogue and difference. California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

 

Journalistic Malpractice

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A recent story in The Washington Post about a civil verdict in favor of a man wrongfully convicted of murder provoked readers to explore the principle of justice in America, particularly as it relates to black citizens. Their discussion, if you could characterize the virtual interchange as that, illustrates the fallacy of unmediated online comment sections as legitimate exercises in public discourse ethics.

Post reporter Spencer Hsu described how a jury ruled that District of Columbia police violated the civil rights of Donald E. Gates, when it effectively framed him for the murder of a university student in 1981. Gates served 27 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit, before being exonerated in 2009 as a result of DNA testing (Hsu, S., 2015).

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.17.09 PMNot surprisingly, the story elicited strong opinions from readers, most of whom decried the injustice and called for punishment of the police officers involved in the case who deliberately falsified evidence in attempting to have Gates convicted. A typical comment: “Any detectives involved in this travesty should be stripped of any retirement benefits they may be receiving, lose every penny of wealth they may have accumulated, and lose any property they own. The only way to deter this type of judicial or law enforcement misconduct (and the term misconduct is way to mild for these actions), is to inflict serious and irreparable personal and financial pain. In this case, unfortunately, the only folks to feel pain will be the law abiding citizens of the District of Columbia.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.14.20 PMSome readers tied the case to the current national debate about perceived biases in the judicial system against black Americans, and the related “Black Lives Matter” movement. Others cited the case as an example of a fatally flawed system incapable of doling out justice consistently and fairly.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 9.16.14 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-18 at 9.15.23 PMScreen Shot 2015-11-18 at 9.16.55 PMGiven the flagrant nature of the case, hyperbolic sentiments are to be expected and some perhaps warranted. Many points were legitimate, while others were irrational (“Stripped of retirement?? They should be shot!”). A theme of what constitutes appropriate legal process provided examples of “undue confidence and unsubstantiated opinion,” when some readers weighed in only to be corrected by others apparently with legal training and experience.

This particular collection of comments typifies why such online discussions are not suitable for protecting the public “sacred space.” Foremost, there was little or no balance in points of view evident. The discussion lacked legitimate voices of the judicial system, such as police officers, prosecutors, and judges. Although the story illustrated how the Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.05.59 PMsystem failed, the public certainly would have benefited from an eloquent defense of the broader principles of justice involved, explanations for why the injustice occurred, and what can and is happening to prevent such problems from recurring in Washington and elsewhere. What about the voice of Gates or others who had been wrongfully convicted, or those of family members of the victims involved in their cases? Public accountability in the pursuit of public discourse ethics mandates “the communicative commitments of (a) diversity of ideas, (b) engagement of public decision making, and (c) a public account for continuing a communicative practice or changing that practice” (Arnett et al., 2009, pp. 102-103). All three would have been served by adding diverse perspectives to the discussion.

I have long believed that editors and content managers who oversee online news stories and their comment sections are committing journalistic malpractice but not taking a more active moderating role. In the spirit of First Amendment free expression and/or out of sheer laziness, they follow lais·sez-faire policies and only intervene for blatantly racist, sexist, or similarly offensive remarks. As a result, these comment sections rarely offer up any substantive conversations that might legitimately lead to societal benefit –- at least in proportion to the effort and number of words rendered in such spaces across the Internet. Most readers simply ignore these comments, much less learn anything from them.

Informed moderators charged with enforcing balance and well-reasoned comments would go a long way to correcting this problem. This may not be as difficult as it appears; the discipline involved is not so different from good old-fashioned editing of the caliber we used to see in newspaper anScreen Shot 2015-11-18 at 11.12.02 PMd magazine reporting. Ensuring fairness, balance, well thought-out positions, and respectful exchanges would be a good start. There may be some risk that those with limited writing or communications skills could feel left out, but moderators could be trained to recognize and accommodate their needs in order to encourage participation. It would be worth the extra effort, given the potential benefit to the protection and preservation of our public realm.

References:

Arnett, R.C., Harden Fritz, J.M. and Bell, L.M (2009). Communication ethics literacy: dialogue and difference. California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Hsu, S. (2015, November 18). D.C.police framed man imprisoned 27 years for 1981 murder, U.S. jury finds. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com