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Friday, April 2, 2010

Public Sentiment and Beyond

Sentiment may be defined as "thought prompted by passion or feeling; a state of mind in view of some subject."

Abraham Lincoln once said, "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed." And, I tend to agree with President Lincoln's statement; however, stirring public sentiment is just one step in the process of creating public action. Public sentiment, alone, heats quickly, burns hot for a while, and then slowly smolders to ashes.

In this day of instant communication, sentiment rushes at the public with gale force from media sources, computers, and cell phones. As the axiom states, "Everyone has an opinion on everything." For example, people express their strong opinions on guns or drugs or health care to explain their frustrations with these matters. Many times expressing opinion involves pointing a finger of blame at one easy target. Scapegoating, or finding an easy mark for rebuke, is a common fallacy. Very often a troubling issue is complex and requires enormous study and preparation to address adequately, but public sentiment often strengthens in environments containing few facts or even half-truths.

Due to spin, propaganda achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure, sentiments may be swayed to believe deception by cloaked manipulation. For example, cherry picking is a common technique of selectively presenting facts and quotes that support just one position. Or, circular argument can be used to disguise unproven truths. Even doublespeak (language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words) is often used by people to bypass vital communication.

Many people rely on spin doctors as sources to access their information and form their opinions. Liberals, conservatives, tea partiers, unions, seniors -- all those in dissent find spins that match their positions. And, so the processes mostly revolve in separate circles of those content only to hear others who approve their disapproval. The arts of compromise and inter-group problem solving seem foreign.

Yet, so-called "personal" public sentiment steams ahead buoyed by polls, surveys, and carefully measured statistics. Usually, popular public sentiment will live until it is replaced by the next huge news story, often sensational involving celebrity. After all, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana died the same week, and who garnered the vast majority of public sentiment? This is not meant to say anything negative at all about Diana, but instead to say something undeniable about the actual roots of forming public opinion. 

As the public, now accustomed to moving from one opinion to the next with the speed of the soundbite, inevitably reveals its short attention span, it leaves important matters behind in semi-reconstruction or in complete disrepair. These outcomes are tragic and unacceptable. Leaving a mess for future parties or future generations results in huge amounts of wasted time and effort. And, just as important, leaving needed reform undone creates public distrust and outright dangerous circumstances for those primarily affected.

The key to insuring that proper public sentiment becomes reality is for the believers to take action. Tempered by sensible patience, people must move forward a step at a time to achieve a difficult goal. The best solutions to terrible problems take tremendous, united support and dedicated leadership to fulfill achievement. Drive and desire fill the heart, but the feet and the arms push the primitive plow through fields of red tape, corruption, and indifference. The small people must do the hard work to furrow the grounds for change. And, this needed work is done through conviction to public action.

As people work together on a cause, differences disappear in direct relation to the weight of the labor performed by each member of the group. Work unites souls and erases party lines. Work replaces despair and creates dreams. Unless those concerned put their sentiments into worthwhile actions, their causes will and must fail. United efforts have no place for anything other than complete cooperation by those offering their God-given talents to make one unbeatable machine. All are different and all can help.

"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence." --Martin Luther King Jr.

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