Sky Writing – A Journey to Explore our Failure to Communicate

Sky Writing – A Journey to Explore our Failure to Communicate

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our country and the state we find it in. I think a lot of us have. I don’t like what I see. It’s unsettling.  And as someone who has spent my life in politics, I feel our politics is driving the national culture that we find so unsettling. Maybe this has always been true and I’m just now waking up to it. But it seems more acute today than ever before in my memory.

One of my favorite old classic movies is the 1967 Academy Award winning “Cool Hand Luke” starring Paul Neuman. Neuman (as Luke), is serving prison time and having a hard time assimilating into the structure and limitations of prison life, fighting a losing battle against the harsh discipline enforced by the prison guards. There are LOTS of classic lines from this movie, but one of my favorites is when the prison warden, known as the Captain (Strother Martin), reacting to Luke’s recent escape attempt, says to the inmates, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”[1] The Captain proceeds to order a particularly harsh punishment for Luke as a way to “communicate” who makes the rules.

That line keeps ringing in my ears because I believe all of what we are experiencing today – all of it —  is the result of a stunning failure to communicate with one another.

I am a “communications expert” by trade.  In college, I got my master’s degree in Rhetoric. (I assume that made you laugh out loud.) Rhetoric is the “art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing.”  More simply put, the art of persuasion. I am fascinated by language. The power of our words to move, motivate and persuade. As a result of this fascination, I have decided to launch this new blog to offer my observations on how communication (or lack of it) is shaping our world. I’m calling it “Sky Writing” (think of this famous example) because I feel like we might as well be writing in the sky given how faulty our communication is with one another these days. It’s possible sky writing was an analog version of Twitter…

Why do this? Why analyze the state of communication among our species these days? Of the many, many brilliant quotes by the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. one of my favorites is this, delivered as part of an address at Cornell College in Iowa in 1962:

“…I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other”[2]

For me, this quote perfectly describes where we find ourselves today as a country — separated, not communicating, not knowing each other (intensified by social media), resulting in fear and hate. We can’t go on like this – or at least we shouldn’t. I believe it deserves consideration, observation and commentary so we can try to course correct.

We’ve just recently inaugurated a new President.  The communications intent and style coming from Washington has already changed dramatically. That contrast provides an opportunity to examine how communication — platforms, style, content and the like – are both the reason we find ourselves where we do, and the potential antidote for how we move forward and recover an America we recognize, cherish and together defend against the enemies of freedom.

I am going to use this space in the months to come to examine these issues more closely — to (say it with me) communicate how I see the world as it has evolved over the last several years, why it feels as if things have spiraled out of control and what we might do to choose another path. I invite you to join me in this conversation, and I look forward to moving beyond the “failure to communicate.”

[1]The quotation used by the prison warden (Strother Martin) in the film, which begins with “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate”, was listed at number 11 on the American Film Institute‘s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes list.

[2]An Address by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa, October 15, 1962 https://news.cornellcollege.edu/dr-martin-luther-kings-visit-to-cornell-college/