Messaging Has the Power to Unify and Divide


It was about 20 years ago that politicians, bureaucrats, and celebrities began obsessing over ‘sending the wrong message’. Prior to that point, Americans didn’t think in those terms. We lived our lives and let the chips fall where they would. No one knows exactly why things changed but messaging suddenly became one of the biggest cultural concerns of the day.

Fast-forward to 2021 and it is glaringly apparent that the entire world is obsessed with messaging. Yet in our ongoing quest to always say the right thing, we tend to deny the reality that messaging has the power to both unify and divide. No amount of parsing the language will change that. There is simply no way to eliminate division. It is part of human nature.

The best anyone can do is seek to avoid division, if doing so is deemed important. To many people, it is. To others, it’s not. But to expect that division will one day be erased entirely is to not understand humanity. To obsess over messaging to the degree that people who send the wrong messages become societal outcasts is to pursue a dream that can never be achieved.

  1. It’s Partly What You Say

A message’s ability to unify or divide is partly related to what it says. Take an apparel brand known as Plurawl, for example. The New York City company behind the brand started Plurawl out of a desire to give the LatinX community a way to send positive messages by way of LatinX shirts, hoodies, and artwork.

Plurawl messages mean something to Latinos and Latinas. They understand the messages, from both a linguistic and cultural standpoint. They consider the messages to be uplifting. Those same messages that don’t mean the same things to people outside of the LatinX community. So while they may not be divisive, the messages might not be unifying either.

  1. It’s Partly What You Hear

We tend to encourage positive messaging that unifies. That makes sense. The vast majority of us don’t enjoy spending our time fighting with people. If a unifying message can help mitigate conflict, so be it. But stop and think about it for a minute. What causes the conflicts that arise with certain kinds of messages?

Believe it or not, it’s not the messages themselves. It is what you and I hear. It’s what we perceive. As a society, we’ve gotten to the point of trying to erase certain messages because we perceive them as being divisive or otherwise negative. But oftentimes, we hear or perceive something that the original creator never intended.

We fall into the trap of determining someone else’s intentions then react accordingly. We end up being divided not because someone’s message was inherently divisive, but because we just assumed that to be the case.

  1. We Aren’t All the Same

Approaching the concept of messaging from an objective point of view reveals that we are not all the same. Likewise, we don’t all think the same thoughts or feel the same emotions. The messages we project are as different as our personalities. The messages we hear are influenced by how we see the world.

What’s the lesson? Messaging has the inherent ability to both unify and divide. That will never change despite our best efforts to purge the language of terms and phrases we don’t like. If we fail to learn that lesson, we run the risk of being divided more often than unified. We run the risk of completely alienating certain segments of society simply because we don’t like what they think or say. That is a recipe for disaster.

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