Much of my recent work has been advocating for things. Those familiar with me outside Iowa City Patch may know that I am a liberal Democrat and a progressive. Not a radical lefty organizer like some of my forbears, just liberal. I have taken public positions on immigration, energy, nuclear proliferation, air quality, clean water, farm policy, high speed internet in rural areas, ending our wars, food hoarding, use of hydrocarbons in society, Occupy Wall Street, veterans issues and support for the elderly. A member of the Franciscan order recently told me that I was too “peace like” for some of the causes I have taken up. If Catholic nuns who are instruments of God’s peace are saying I should step it up, perhaps I should take notice.
The thing is, most people I know are weary of the constant hyperbole being asserted by anyone who can get up on a soap box. At the same time, if a person eschews hyperbole, readers may consider it pabulum, too simplistic and bland for consumption, despite any nourishing qualities. Who wants to be fed a diet of bland grey glop like the crew of the Nebuchadnezzer in the Matrix?
To get the message across, there needs to be a balance between holding interest through rhetorical device and facts. In some cases, the topic alone holds interest, as does a discussion of the medical consequences of nuclear war. When we consider what happens after the detonation of a nuclear bomb, it is so severe and devastating to human health that it becomes easy to conclude that the use of nuclear weapons should be illegal, as the World Court has determined, and immoral. It’s common sense to some of us.
Is this convincing? Not always. During the Q and A at some of my lectures, a few people discuss what we should do about Iran’s nuclear program like we were playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a 500 word blog post or a 30 minute lecture, it is difficult to present conclusive arguments about complex topics like Iran’s nuclear program, which has regional implications that reach across the Atlantic Ocean to touch almost every American. So what’s a blogger to do?
Stick with the truth, not the narrative. When we advocate for something, we build a case like we are back in high school debate club. We create a narrative. Some of us learned that anything can be argued from different perspectives. Others believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and predetermination. A successful advocate has to deal with both outlooks.
In advocacy writing, regardless of our position, it should be grounded in a tangible reality found in personal experience. This is a novel idea in the age of a politicized corporate media that spins airy fibers from the uttering of pundits, politicians, broadcasters, university professors and the like into such pretty threads, ready for the loom. The challenge is to see through the narrative, and the truth is not always very flashy.
What I told the nun was that I am who I am and effective messaging means reducing or eliminating hyperbole. She obviously noticed and keeps coming to my presentations. What she does is as important as what she says, and that is grounded in a reality I understand and can work with.