As a crisis manager, I have seen the very worst of human behavior and I have seen the very best. Part of my role includes guiding those involved in a crisis about what not to say and what not to do. Over the past month, the world has been inspired by the strength and momentum of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who have taken their unspeakable experience to create change. After the shooting on February 14th, we all witnessed the remarkable resilience of those students, faculty, grieving parents and total strangers whose hearts were again broken by a shocking, massive loss of life. Almost as shocking is that just days after survivors and families began raising their voices, they were confronted with criticism and unbelievably unkind commentary from individuals who are expected to know better.
For instance, conservative personality Ben Domenech on Feb. 21 referenced CNN’s town hall meeting in a tweet that said, “Rubio decided to go among a crowd of idiots. I don’t know why.” The crowd of “idiots” he referenced included survivors, parents of children gunned down just days earlier, as well as first responders and those who have lived through other mass shootings. Of significance is that the crowd included teachers who bravely saved so many student lives.
The latest nastygram came from political commentator Laura Ingraham who also used Twitter to mock young David Hogg, one of the loudest survivor voices of the Parkland shooting.
Communication, especially in times of crises, is about understanding that words, tone, and the current social climate matter. Understanding the impact of what you do and what you say – be it verbal or tweeted – during the most emotionally horrific of times reflects on you, your reputation and character. The two examples I cited were actions of professional communicators; they make their living sharing their thoughts. They knew what they are doing; they were intentional.
The political differences and discourse that have become part of the wake following that dreadful, dreadful day are legitimate issues for debate and disagreement. Bullying, attacks on young adults, and name calling -- the most basic of bad behavior -- serve no purpose, especially by adults who make their living as high-profile opinionators. Ultimately, these tactics just reflect back on those who exercise them.
Those of us who work in crisis management focus on inoculating clients from negative circumstances; sometimes that includes protecting them from the unintended consequences of poor judgment. One would expect that individuals who make their living speaking out publicly would have a better idea about how their words can impact others and, in the long run, themselves.