Genuine communication is all about creating relationships and building trust.
When two or more people meet in person, a conversation or sharing of experiences leaves a mark that outlasts the ephemeral impact of digital communications. When members of a community listen to each other’s views and opinions, discuss them and move forward together, they gain greater understanding and may even shift their positions. It takes time. It takes work.
In public communication, the traditional mass media have long held a privileged position. They inform but they also lead the debate. In recent years, partly owing to a plethora of misinformation and “false news”, opinion journalism has gained ground. In the past, news and opinion were kept apart. Today, news sites offer columns, news analysis, criticism, reporter’s notebooks, memos, journals and appraisals – all forms that depart from the straightforward presentation of facts and carry the risk of blurring the line between news and opinion.
Trustworthy news sites make a clear distinction between the two. Opinions are very often relevant to a story and essential for the reader or viewer to understand its meaning and consequences. For that reason, quoted opinion must be authoritative and attributed to a named source. Journalists who write “point of view” pieces are expected to express solid views in their areas of expertise and not to make ungrounded assertions or, least of all, personal attacks.
Other communicators in the public domain also have a role to play and it is heartening to see interventions by the contemporary artist, activist and advocate of political reform in China, Ai Weiwei. In “Human dignity is in danger. In 2019 we must stand as one to survive” (The Guardian, 1 January 2019), he writes:
“If we truly believe in values that we can all identify with and aspire to – a recognition of truth, an understanding of science, an appreciation of the self, a respect for life and a faith in society – then we need to eliminate obstacles to understanding, uphold the fundamental definition of humanity, affirm the shared value of human lives and other lives, and acknowledge the symbiotic interdependency of human beings and the environment.”
That’s what genuine communication is all about: greater understanding of the challenges that face us and of potential solutions. Whether it is climate change, the global refugee crisis, or the rise of populist politics, dialogue is the only means of discovering shared values and acting accordingly.