Three years and three months ago, my father died. My dad was a wonderful man who could wax philosophical and dream big ideas, but who found deep and lasting joy in his practical, everyday life. On this past father’s day, while giving due attention to my loving husband and the father of our three children, I took time to consider all the gifts my father gave me – some intentionally, others by example.
One of those many gifts was a kernel of wisdom that’s been relevant to life in general, my days at work, and my career in PR specifically. I remember I was in high school and made some smart-ass remark about “the way things are” – in that “I know everything” voice which sixteen year olds wield with such mastery. My dad looked at me, the way only he could (nobody has ever silenced me faster, with only a look, than my father) – and he said very quietly: “Patty, one thing I’ve noticed in this world is that it’s terribly easy to be cynical.”
Now, the thing about my dad was that he typically just doled out an unfinished nugget of wisdom, and left you to figure out the rest of it. Maybe it was his training as a college professor – some leftover, distant relation to the Socratic Method he favored – or perhaps it was simply his trust in the intellectual rigor of his offspring, but he never felt it necessary to connect all the dots for me. Either way, his simple sentence fundamentally shifted something in me; made me pause to consider that cynicism may make you sound smart, worldly and sophisticated – but (and here’s the half that I figured out for myself…) it usually isn’t the best way to find a resolution to a problem, or to gain real intelligence, or to live a productive life.
It is easy to be cynical. There’s a lot of crazy in this world, and it’s much easier – and sometimes more fun – to sit back and find something snarky to say than to dig in with purpose and passion, and try to make it a better, less crazy place. But the truth is, if everybody is sitting back and being cynical, nobody is getting anything done.
And that’s especially true when you work in PR. As good PR professionals, it’s absolutely necessary and healthy to ask questions, to poke holes, and to be investigative, curious and sometimes even skeptical about claims that our clients’ products, services and people are the (insert superlative here) in the market. And after almost 20 years in the profession, believe me when I say that I’ve heard a few things (think Internet bubble) that would justify a cynical attitude about “breakthrough technology” or “extraordinary value.”
But the fact is that finding our clients’ right, good and true stories also requires us to remain above cynicism, to have a positive and productive perspective on asking questions, and to maintain a certain sense of wonder for the ingenuity that creates products and services that people and businesses need. And I think one of the many joys of our profession is finding that true and good story, and telling it to the world: ultimately helping people who are looking for a solution to find it – helping our clients articulate exactly the right message for their audience.
Thanks, Dad. In the most important ways, you’re still with me, every day.