Friday, June 18, 2010

Who Are You? and The Small People

Someone emailed me today and asked if I am missing in action. My answer, of course, was no, I’m still here but real work has temporarily taken the place of the fun and joy I get when I write for this space. This is just the third day of posting this week, and, thank goodness, someone missed me.

It took those three words—missing in action—for me to decide to post today, and while I haven’t run out of information or topics or whatever about which to pen, it was just three words that inspired me to write about three words. Actually, there are two new three-word phrases, or at least two three-word phrases that are in the news these days that are today’s topic:

Who Are You?
The Small People.

If you’re not familiar with either, then please tell me the size of rock you’ve been under the last 48 to 96 hours. Or tell me you’re as dumb as the customer service person I talked with this morning who knew what time it was in Washington state but had no clue what time it was in North Carolina. I can imagine confusing some of the time zones running through various states, in the Mountain time zone but if you live in Washington state and do not know it’s three hours later in North Carolina, then I’d say you are as dumb as the rock you might have been under the last 48 to 96 hours.

As it turns out that customer service person didn’t even know where North Carolina is within the United States, but because of the phrase, “Who are you?” a millions of people now the name of one of the United States Representatives from North Carolina. And, that would be Bobby Etheridge, the man of many grips. If you missed it, here’s his latest campaign commercial, or at least the one coming to a television this fall in his campaign for re-election:

Etheridge shows in that video he has a strong wrist grip, and a neck-grasp grip and an I’m-your-buddy-around-the-shoulder grip, all inappropriate when used in the video, no matter who was assaulting him with the camera and the question: Do you fully support the Obama agenda? From watching the video, viewed now my more than 2.5 million people at that site and probably many, many more through other outlets to where it has been downloaded, if you know Congressman Etheridge (D-NC, 2nd District), you realize this might be out of character for him, at least in public. But it will probably come back to haunt him this fall.

Etheridge may be tall in height but after this video, after his reaction to being questioned on the street by people who he knew not, he might as well be one of the little people, not to be confused with the small people of the Gulf of Mexico region of the United States. In this case, we’re not talking about height or weight.

It was Wednesday when BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg met with President Obama to discuss the oil disaster in the Gulf. When he emerged, he spoke to reporters and said the president was “frustrated because he cares about the small people. We care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies or greedy companies that don't care, but that is not the case at BP. We care about the small people."

Of course, that caused a storm of reaction across the nation. The Chairman became the subject of jokes. John Stewart forgave him because Svanberg is Swedish and a BP spokesman said the remark about “small people” was a slip in translation. Based on how difficult it is to assemble furniture from IKEA, Stewart said he understood how easy it would be for a Swede to make that slip.

Etheridge apologized as well, in a short statement, taking full fault for the way he reacted. But, he did react wrongly, and it’ll part of his record, part of his credibility for a long time to come.

Maybe after writing this, I should be missing in action. But, my point here, if there is one, is that three words in two cases made a huge impact in communication. If Etheridge had said, “How are you?” instead of “Who are you?” and if Svanberg had said he cared about “all the people” along the Gulf Coast instead of “the small people,” the impact from both would have been a lot less than what it was, is and shall be for a long time to come.

1 comment:

  1. Carl-Henric Svanberg is the latest head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. He is one cat in his lap and an eyepatch from being a perfect Bond Villain.

    BP's HQ is in a hollowed-out volcano "in the Balkans".


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