One thing I learned growing up is that communication is the art and the craft of conveying meaning from one person to another. My mother, God bless her, taught me that. This means that the craft just isn’t happening until the message has been received and understood. The artistry and elegance with which it is framed is worthless and meaningless until that message is received and understood.
I’ve thought about this many times in relation to so-called “artists” who complain that the public “doesn’t get” their work, and imply that, somehow, it’s the public that’s at fault. Art is communications. Its purpose is to bring out in the observer some meaning, or feeling, or emotion. If it fails that test, then it isn’t art. It’s crafty self-gratification. (By the way, I have two friends, going back to high school days, who are artists. One works primarily in comics, and the other is a wide-ranging commercial artist who works in a wide variety of media. Neither one EVER makes this mistake!)
Now that doesn’t mean that every communication, every work of art, must reach every person who might encounter it. I consider myself a craftsman in the craft of putting words in a row. I’ve been working at honing my craft for many years, and to this day, I devote a good deal of time to it. But, for instance, a fair part of my output is intended to reach a Libertarian, or at least libertarian, audience. As such, when I work on such a project, I use the terms and images that we within this group have in common.
But another part of my output is intended to reach a more general audience. Much of that still concerns libertarian issues, but it is intended to persuade people outside of our movement of the rightness of our views. When I do this, I use a different palate, one whose colors will reach a broader spectrum of observers.
All of this is done in aid of the goal of having the message I’m trying to convey understood as I meant it. Any time I have to come back to something I’ve written and say, “Well, what I really meant was …” I’ve failed, at least in that degree.
If I write a piece intended to present a philosophical, moral, or political point, and the reaction I get is widespread outrage and/or disgust, even from those who I would expect would ordinarily be on my side, then I’ve failed in a BIG way. No matter how artfully I’ve concocted the message, no matter how ‘truthful’ it is, if it provokes reactions the opposite of my goals, then the message is at fault, NOT the audience.
Now, this does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that I have to adulterate our shared principles. At the very most, it may mean that I have to avoid making points to people who will not respond positively to the message. I will not, in general, start talking about Second Amendment rights to NORML, or the reasons why cannabis should be legal to GOA. I won’t deny my positions on these issues to anyone, if asked, but I’ll address each audience, first and foremost, in the terms that will best reach them. More often than not, it simply means fine-tuning the message so that it will be understood in the sense intended.
When a person holds a position of responsibility in a given organization, this point is even more critical, because whatever message is communicated will be understood as the official word of that organization. I currently hold two positions within the Libertarian Party of Ohio which would place me in this category: I am vice-chair of the Central Committee and Communications Director. So, anything I write about the party or libertarian matters in general would likely, and reasonably, be taken by many to represent the views of the party. You may be assured that I take this responsibility VERY seriously.
This is very important, because whatever is taken as the official position of our party will come back to reflect on us again, and again, and again. “The people” may have short memories, but individuals often have long ones, and those who wish us ill will have no compunction about throwing our words back at us when it’s to their advantage to do so. We have many, many fine candidates who will be seeking office in the next several years. Some will be serious contenders to win their races, mostly those seeking local office. Many others may be in a position to affect the outcome of races, even if they don’t win, and to introduce our party and our beliefs to Americans at large. Every one of those candidates runs the risk of having to answer for any message coming out of our party which is ill-framed or inflammatory. Heaven knows it’s tough enough to run for office as a Libertarian without having functionaries of the party giving unintentional aid and comfort to the enemy.
So that’s our task – my task – whenever I put words in a row. It’s not enough to consider what I meant to say. I also have to account for what I am understood to have said.