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PR and YOU!

(A few friends have asked me what’s up with my blog. If I were a super-famous blogger, that might be annoying. Since I’m not, it’s fantastic and I appreciate it immensely.)

I carefully curate my news sources, so it’s only dimly reached my awareness, but apparently there’s been something of a meltdown recently because it seems that most people don’t carefully curate their news sources.

That hubbub mostly passed me by, because it seems like a problem on another planet, but it’s come to my attention that there are people I know for whom “public relations,” “spin,” and media manipulation are a problem. In fact, putting aside the well-funded hackers of the Icelandic military, I can successfully propaganda my own friends.

To illustrate, let me tell the shortest possible story.

A friend of mine who doesn’t read my blog frequently asks me for audio cables. I happen to have a huge stockpile of audio cables that I (perhaps foolishly) bought in bulk many years ago, with the intent to resell. I wasn’t trying to make a killing, I was just aware that local stores charge an insane markup but shipping a single cable is expensive and inconvenient. Anyway, when this guy wants a cable, I make him buy a bag that I packaged to sell, at cost ($5). But… eventually I realized that he had started considering me a cheapskate.

Oh shit, public sentiment is turning against me! I’m down in the polls!

That is despite the fact that I do tech support for him for free, let him borrow my tools, help him move things, etc…

Anyway, the point of this story is not to complain (although that’s fun too). The point is, people do not think very hard in order to calibrate their opinions. Even on each other.

Positive PR works too. If someone is mad at you for something you did, drop everything and make it right for them. If you broke something, go to the store that night or first thing in the morning and buy a nicer replacement. If you borrowed something and the owner wants it back, get it back to them without making them wait.

(You can take that too far. One time a neighbor told me to break into his house to get something I had loaned him because he wasn’t home. I didn’t, which he said afterward made him feel awful.)

Later, I went out of my way to get this friend an HDMI cable he needed, for free, which seems to have turned around his opinion of me, at least for now. (I got it at a used goods store for $1 so he’s wrong to think that I’m not a cheapskate.)

Anyway, this is all well and good. At least when it comes to being polite and helpful, there’s nothing wrong with good PR.

But here, take this 5 second PR test:

  1. “We should kill old people.”
  2. “We should legalize euthanasia.”

If you read these two sentences differently, whether you are for euthanasia or against it, you are vulnerable to PR and spin–not just from the media and the government, but also from the people you know.

If you are smart like Bill Gates (at least before he cleaned up his act), you might look at a problem like this and see an opportunity. If you are smart like Ghandi, you might look at an opportunity like this and see a problem.

Please, engage your rational mind and consider the many possible meanings of a single statement, and the many possible statements of a single meaning.

And if someone asks you for audio cables, say you don’t have any.

Bonus: A lot of times, if you offer to do someone a favor and then later recant, or do a “partial” favor but have to stop early, people will get mad at you. This is really, really foolish. If someone so much as lifts a finger for you, you should be thankful.

Bonus 2: “Isolated incident” and “growing trend” both mean “a sample size of one.”

Thank you for reading.