The Communication of Colin Kaepernick
I wrote a book of a comment on friend’s post and I decided I should share it more broadly as part of the conversation. Right or wrong, ideas must be aired to be examined.
I read your post and scanned the comments while I was in Idaho today collecting data and I thought it over on the drive home. I decided to share before I crashed off to sleep because it seems I can’t sleep without expressing my thoughts.
It’s a frustrating issue with difficult answers when answers can be found. I don’t blame you for the way you feel as I agree with you. Racism is a systemic cultural problem. I don’t need to prove the point beyond pointing to the Bureau of Crime Statistics among other objective sources of data.
Colin has the hard won right to protest and do as he pleases. Frankly, I wish more people would stand up for their opinions (while admitting when are they wrong of course, courage must go both ways). He protested in a nonviolent way that got attention about a real issue.
I don’t know him personally or his full intentions. And they don’t matter to me for that reason. I will address only the facts.
Colin is a football player. I don’t expect him to solve America’s problems. He’s rich and I don’t blame him for that or hold that against his opinions. Everyone can speak their mind. That’s essential to finding truth. The perfect messenger is never perfect anyways.
Black people are, and all people should be, upset with America both for the current situation as well as the dark past. Many of the founding ideas took years to develop and the culture lags to catch up. The flag has blood on it because imperfect men, some bad and some well intentioned, put it there. And that blood includes Mormons, Native Americans, enslaved and further oppressed Blacks, among others.
Speaking objectively, if the hypothetical imperative was to generate attention, he has certainly done it. No one can criticize that. He set a purpose and accomplished it.
Though as Stacey has mentioned, attention is fleeting and the media will grind on. Another black kid will be shot and the cycle continues. Which leaves me with one question: was it enough to generate attention and what did it cost to generate that attention?
Again as Stacey has mentioned, it seems as though an individual’s reaction to the protest depends on his stance on the issue he protested. Or stated another way, people generally are playing according to whatever team they’re on without considering the issue. In fact, it seems it polarized the issue even further by inflaming emotions. Opinions are simply more entrenched now than before.
I propose two alternate ways of thinking about this issue or any issue where differing opinions are concerned.
The first is pessimistic. People are instinctively driven animals for the more part and though they should be persuaded by sound facts and arguments, they often aren’t. Instead you must recognize your audience and play to them accordingly. Pathos works on the masses. Logos works on very few people. Call it manipulation, call it politics, but you have to call it effective.
The second is optimistic. Maybe people can be reached with sound arguments if we can at least prevent the emotions from getting in the way. I’ve changed many positions many times and I’m fairly arrogant and aggressive by nature. Maybe most people can be touched if we reach out in the right way.
Whichever view you take, it’s clear one of the first rules of communication is know your audience. Colin tried something out and he’s free to do so. And you can’t deny he got attention. I don’t require him to do anything more. But maybe we should consider the original goal for ourselves? We should hold ourselves accountable for more than simply ‘doing something’ even if we have no idea how. We have to do something that makes a difference.
Consider your audience. If all you’re trying to do is fire up those who agree with you, well that’s easy. Fire and spit in your enemy’s eye and you will be cheered. But it’s the people you disagree with you should aim to convince, not those who agree with you.
If I aim to convince Catholics of anything I don’t start by disrespecting a cathedral they hold sacred. If I want Mormons to agree with me, I don’t start by disrespecting the Book of Mormon. If I try to convince the Chinese, I don’t cause them to lose face.
If I actually want Americans who care deeply about their culture and heritage, many of whom serve in the military, who view the flag with an intense emotional reverence, I do not start the conversation by disrespecting their sacred emblem.
We are more likely to understand and embrace that respect when we deal with a far flung culture than with the culture of our friends and neighbors. I understand the emotion or the desire to stick it to them or win by overwhelming shame and shouting. There is a time and a place to fight fire with fire. But if you’re interested in joining the conversation, why would you start with fire? Whatever capacity for reason could have been used evaporated.
Great communicators are great leaders almost by default. I think they’re fascinating and their intelligence always strikes me. Martin Luther King’s name has already been invoked in this conversation. He delivered arguably the greatest American speech of the last century. It is remembered, it is respected, and it made a difference. Perhaps it’s the American Gold Standard for making a difference.
Read it again. I love it for it’s brilliance of delivery as much as it’s encapsulation of ideas.
-He delivered it “in the shadow” of a revered American president. A place he called “hallowed ground”
-He alluded and alliterated to the greatest speech of that president and perhaps the greatest speech of that century.
-He referred directly to the “magnificent words” of the Constitution and the Deceleration of Independence.
-He quoted it’s “unalienable rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”
-He invoked the pride of the nation by demanding they accept the challenge because America couldn’t be so unjust or incapable to not “cash the check”
-He invoked the name of our God as he referred inclusively to “all of God’s children”
-He quoted the bible twice.
-He referred specifically to the white people in the crowd and pleaded that even though they would rock the foundations of nation if necessary, they could not hate or mistrust their “white brothers”
-He spoke of little black boys and girls holding hands with little white boys and girls
-He quoted several lines from ‘My Country ’tis of Thee,’ a song that is as much of a national anthem as THE national anthem or any other. “…Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride…”
In short, he found common ground and spoke to the heart of the people who regarded him as an enemy with the truth they needed to hear. He owed the nation who tortured him nothing. But he reached out and found someone to touch. And he is remembered for mattering.
Colin doesn’t need to be MLK. He’s a football player. I respect him for trying. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use the attempt to illustrate a point. Or that we can’t learn from it and at the same time, respect it.
Let’s reach out to actually make a difference regardless of the issue because I want to learn and I hope others will help me learn instead of viewing me as their enemy when I am their brother.
Stacey, as always, your opinions are valuable to me and I enjoy the beautiful thought. I know you’ll continue to do that and I hope I have expressed myself in a way that is precise and understandable. Even if you disagree with me, I value your ideas and you yourself.