William Lutz, Professor at Rutgers University perceptively comments, “If there’s one product American business can produce in large amounts, it’s doublespeak. Doublespeak is language that only pretends to say something; it’s language that hides, evades or misleads.” Double speak is the art of saying one thing but meaning another. In today’s age double speak is rife. We have, unfortunately, almost reached a point where plain speaking truth is seen as wrong, rather than the norm.”
You can no longer approach any organisation with a simple question and get a straight answer. You might, for example, ask something as straight forward as, “How much did you spend on services last year?” The answer you will get will be either, “I am unable to divulge this information as it is commercial and in confidence.” Or you will get, “ We are committed to increasing our expenditure on services, we are committed to targeting a percentage of revenue towards services.” Answers such as these are designed, of course, to tell you nothing or simply to hide the plain truth
Recently after Deafness Forum found themselves short of a CEO I made enquiries about what was happening to fill the position and even offered to assist them knowing that they were under the pump with the Deafness Summit coming up in April. I got a standard reply that, ” The board and I are exploring options and are currently receiving advice from our major funding bodies on plans moving forward. This will take a month or so as you do understand being an ex-board member that we are all volunteers.” Within a month the position of CEO had been filled, without advertising. Clearly the Board had been active in seeking someone well before I had even contacted them. This is fine, but why not just say, “ We are acting quickly to fill the position and are negotiating with a suitable candidate to fill the position in the short term. We will not be advertising because the position needs to be filled quickly owing to heavy commitments of Deafness Forum in the next few months”
Ok, sure I would have loved the job but what bugs me is the lack of transparency. Sure I would have targeted Deaf and hearing impaired people for the job. Sure I don’t agree with how they did things, but is their right to do what they think is best for Deafness Forum as an elected Board. I would much prefer them to say, “Well Gary we don’t think you are a suitable fit for the job, you are too out spoken and critical. We want someone less political and controversial.” Sure I would have been angry at this but I would have respected them for their honesty. Of course they would never say that. They would say something like, ”Thank you for your interest. You are clearly very experienced and skilled. We will give your application all due consideration.” Then of course they would put it in the drawer and forget about it hoping that would be the last they would hear of me.
Now everything I have written above is purely speculation. It’s quite possible nothing like this happened at all. It is quite possible that when I originally contacted them that they were seeking advice from their funder. It is possible that within two weeks that they had received that advice from their funder, did a head hunt, found someone suitable, contacted them, contracted them and set a start date. Anything is possible. After all they are all volunteers right?
And of course me writing this could all be construed as sour grapes, couldn’t it? OK I will admit, in the pursuit of honesty and openness, I am mightily miffed that I can’t get due consideration for the job. But it’s not really sour grapes, it’s more sheer frustration that people can no longer be up-front and honest. I know the chair of Deafness Forum, he is a top bloke. I had a beer and debate with him at the recent Australian Deaf Games. I write this because I know he will take it in the spirit that it is meant. All I am seeking is some honesty and transparency of process. This very simple and worthwhile concept, OPENESS, is eating at the very soul of our sector and it saddens me.
Truth and its purpose have been debated for many years. Ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, asked ..“And isn’t it a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are.” This train of thought holds true today. Best-selling author, Spencer Johnson, stated, “Integrity is telling yourself the truth, honesty is telling others the truth.” Ethically we know that telling the truth, being open and transparent is the right way to go about things, yet still we chose strategies like double speak or hiding behind imagined legal barriers to hide the truth. We all have become so self interested that we have forgotten the big picture.
We have reached a point where we can no longer say something that is the absolute truth. It is seen as the ultimate no-no to say something like, Captiview is a DUD. (I actually prefer my friend John’s label – CRAPTIVIEW.) We have to water things down. We have to portray a false sense of positiveness for fear that our decision makers will take their ball and go home. Rather than say Captiview is rubbish, and it is, we have to resort to double speak and say something like, ”Captiview is an innovative technology that has brought better access to the cinema. There are some challenges in its use ….” When the community expresses its view with passion, immediately there are people who try to cover it up and portray a false sense of positiveness. WE MUST NOT BE NEGATIVE. We have to PLAY the GAME!
What happened to the days when you could let people know what you really felt. Years ago we were encouraged to protest. Hell we had a mass campaign where we rang people on the TTY all day and blasted them with a TTY beep so that they could understand the need for a National Relay Service. We protested outside an Oral school because some guy was giving out misleading information about the effectiveness of hearing aids and how sign language impeded speech development. We protested outside the Surf Life Saving Club at their refusal to allow a deaf girl to try for her bronze medal on the grounds she could not use a walkie talkie. WE showed good old fashioned passion and feelings. Today we would be hushed up for fear of upsetting FRIENDS of INFLUENCE. God forbid if we talk out of school, we may even lose OUR FUNDING! There is no such thing as an impartial organisation anymore.
Now we must have friends. We must put up photos on our websites showing us smiling with all the influential people we know. We have to be seen smiling with the PM and the Opposition all at once, just in case the other becomes PM and we need their influence to retain our funding. Ok it helps that we have friends on the inside but not to the point where we fear telling the truth lest we put them offside. It is sad but we have reached a point where WE FEAR THE TRUTH.
George Orwell in his classic book, Animal Farm, highlights just how the disability sector work today in this brilliant passage, “..No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?” And because we are all seen as ignorant, we are fed half-truths, double speak and worse even patronised. A band of a few decide that they know what is best for all of us. They tell us only what they THINK WE NEED TO KNOW.
Just tell us the truth, be open and transparent. If you have done nothing wrong there is nothing to hide. People may not agree with the decisions of others but they will respect these decisions more if integrity of process is displayed. As Mark Twain said, “Of all the animals, man is the only one that lies.” Twain also said, “..A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies” It is within us to change this mentality of double speak, lies and thought control. Who among us is brave enough to start?
PS – I am well aware that this piece will do me no favours professionally, but hell someone has to practice what they preach.