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Biting Commentary

Divine Inspiration of the Single-Issue Idiot Part 4

By Richard B. Barger, ABC, APR

Originally Posted

Every morning, someone wakes up and decides that today they're going to hate you.

If you deal with issue-based communications, some people went to bed pissed off, slept pissed off, and jumped out of bed already pissed off, and there's not a thing you can do about it. My best guess is that, on balance, they total about 20 percent of your publics.

But whether the figure is 20 percent or 14 percent or 6 or 40 (let's hope not!), some segment of the population doesn't like you, your issue, your company, your client, their actions or positions or approach, ... something.

And you can't do anything about it.

I'd Rather Be Mad

A friend tells a wonderful, subtle story about the daily ritual of some of his office buddies going to lunch at various local eateries. On the day in question, one of the guys ordered soup. The meals were delivered, the fella took a couple of spoonfuls of soup, then pushed back from the table, hands folded, a scowl on his face.

The restaurant was unusually busy, and the waitress only returned to the table once more, with the check and the cheery question, "Was everything all right?"

The response: "Soup was cold."

Appropriately, the waitress said, "I'm sorry. Let me get you another bowl."

"No," said our Gloomy Gus, to the everlasting delight of his companions. "I'd rather be mad."

I'd rather be mad.

Now I get a kick out of this story, because I know -- we all know -- people like this. As communicators, as businesspeople, we encounter them all the time.

But what do you do about them?

Well, often the best advice is "Nothing."

You have limited resources of time and materials and people and money, and they are better spent on publics whose attitudes, actions, beliefs, behaviors, and opinions you can change in a positive direction, a direction beneficial to you or your company or your client.

There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes the issue is crucial to your survival and, while your goal probably isn't to change the opinions or approach of the offensive 20 percent, it certainly may be to counteract their bad influence.

Pissing Off the Pig

However, changing the opinions of people whose sole motivation in life is to see you suffer is an exercise fraught with futility. It's like the old saw about trying to teach a pig to sing: It wastes your time, makes a terrible noise, and thoroughly annoys the pig.

Anyone who has a close-minded, unthinking, knee-jerk, one-size-fits-all response to the issue of the day certainly is not going to be persuaded by the rightness of your position or the wrongness of theirs.

They are, after all, zealots who live and die to hold the very opinion that is so antithetical to your interests. To them, nothing else matters except their single issue.

It's My Way or the Highway

It's not that they don't respect your point of view -- they don't acknowledge or see or even give a damn about your point of view. Because of the divine wisdom that only they possess, they have no interest in anything you have to say.

They simply are zero-tolerant, zero-thinking, close-minded, blinder-wearing, radical, single-issue idiots, unthinkingly and simplemindedly overreacting to the perceived injustices of the complex world around them.

Our society tends to view people's actions on an imprecise scale ranging from wholly acceptable to dangerously radical. We've been brought up to believe "there's a right way and a wrong way to do things."

Except for the fanatic few who have decided that society's laws and mores do not apply to them, violence generally is seen as the "wrong way." You don't burn down businesses because you're annoyed with company policies; you don't kill doctors because you don't like them performing abortions; you don't assault people who express an opinion that differs from yours.

No, if you're not a social misfit, you select means that have been more or less approved by the majority of society. Oh, you might push the envelope some -- that's how we get bigger envelopes -- but in most instances you'll persuade more people if you are somewhere near their own position when you try to move them, rather than so far off to one side as to be simply thought an irrelevant malcontent.

Stuffing the Box

Our society and our profession value the interchange of ideas. We value debate, discussion, thoughtful, intelligent exchanges. We are highly tolerant of differing viewpoints. After debate, one of the acceptable means of expressing opinions and enforcing change is through the ballot box.

But that, of course, leads to another form of single-issue idiocy: the single-issue voter.

We all know people who have decided that a single political issue or position is so crucial that the rest of a politician's views are irrelevant. Many people harbor issues they believe could be "fixed" by politics -- or by politicians who share their myopic world view.

We come up with single-issue, litmus-test voters, who are so concerned about abortion or homosexual marriage or the death penalty or gun control or the snail-darting tree frog, that they drop the voting-booth lever based solely on what the politician says about their pet issue, without regard to the rest of what may be a frightening -- or dangerous -- political agenda.

Giving In to Emotions

Judgment and thought go out the window, as these single-issue voters follow their emotions rather than their intellect. To them, their issue, their approach, is so vital that nothing else matters.

I shudder when I hear such fanaticism from otherwise intelligent people.

On most issues, the fanatics and demagogues and idiots on all sides tend to cancel one another out, leaving elections in the hands of the better-informed, more thoughtful voters. But not always.

We all set priorities and evaluate importance of various ideas and issues and points of view. We decide that some matters are more important than others and deserve our closest attention and biggest commitment of our time, resources, and energy.

But most intelligent adults understand that the world is a complex place and the interplay of many issues and ideas is crucial to our survival.

If you run into someone who tries to convince you that a single issue is the only thing that matters, get away from that person as quickly as you can.

And if you can't get away, start preaching an obscure view of the Bible or begin a sales pitch for Amway. You won't have to leave; he'll be gone in a second.

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