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Truth Held Captive

By Christine Johns

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:25

Peace if possible, truth at all costs. –Martin Luther

Recently, I read an article about the state of communication in a “post-truth” era. So much has changed in our industry in our relationship to the truth. The advent of fake news, safe spaces, and trigger warnings give permission to audiences to choose ala carte the information that matches a prescriptive version of “their truth” while dismissing the rest. The growth of identity politics has fomented this movement of offense and entitlement, and with that comes a propensity towards falsehood.

One must be ready to move quickly to get the facts out in the face of falsehood. In the old days, falsehoods traveled short distances, the reach of a newspaper. Today, they travel the world. That is worrisome.  – Jim Horton

How do we communicate the truth objectively, when we’re challenged by a culture that celebrates subjectivity? Obviously, the solution is not to pine for those erstwhile days when media outlets had unprecedented power to steer public opinion and consumer habits. Now, social media has given that power to the audience, and with it the ability to blur the lines of fact and opinion.

A recent study about how anger motivates individuals to share information on Facebook revealed—unsurprisingly–that an enraged user is a profitable one, especially for a system that thrives on conflict. And some brands and messaging are built on the back of obfuscation, managing to skirt the border of legal and ethical standards whilst pandering to the public.

Courage is the willingness to speak the truth about what you see and to own what you say. – Seth Godin

While there is a marked decrease in the age-old trend of “lying for merit” in marketing, the time is ripe for us to usher in a golden age of truth-telling. It begins by looking inward. Assuming that you, dear reader, hold fast to the idea that truth is absolute, personal, and knowable, and not simply what makes you happy, what then, shall we do?

Lift high the standard of accountability to one another.
We cannot, as communicators, lie to one another or to the world to maintain a veneer of peace or prosperity. To do so weakens the integrity and reputation of our profession and distorts the message we share with our audience.

Strive to tell a good (and true) story.
A man ahead of his time, David Ogilvy understood the importance of a good story without sacrificing the truth: “Tell the truth, but make it fascinating.” If your brand tells an earnest, compelling story, you can win over your audience and earn their trust, love, and loyalty.

Feed the world.
The world is starving for truth, but they don’t know it. As a communicator, you are the watchman on the wall. You must cut through the smoke and mirrors. You must bring uncompromising clarity and unvarnished truth to your audience—even if it costs you.

Pursuing the truth will always offend someone. However, if your audience knows you are willing to be clear about what it is you are selling and are interested in building a relationship with them, then you have communicated value and trust all along the line. It takes effort, but is really the path of least resistance.

And that’s the truth.