In 2000, I was taking a modern history class taught by a professor who relished a great debate. As it was still before the Bush/Gore presidential election, one day he split the class in two and instructed Bush supporters to one side of the room and Gore fans to the other. We were all geared up to defend our favorite candidate’s positions, and then the prof threw a curve ball: we were going to have to debate for the candidate we opposed; Bush supporters for Gore, Gore for Bush. The class cried foul–how were we expected to do this? And, why? Why?
I knew the answer to this question even then, though I didn’t like it. More than a decade later, I recalled the memory of this debate while sitting at my desk in the office several weeks ago. It came to mind while I was staring at a blank Word document trying to decide how to begin an employee communication the content of which I found abhorrent.
Here I was, years into my career, back in a classroom trying to defend Al Gore.
That’s one of those things about being the corporate messenger; sometimes you don’t get to deliver the message you want. Sometimes you get to create messages that make everyone cheer, and other times you have to stomach the decisions that have been made above you and find a way to neatly package them in a way that makes them palatable for everyone else, too.
I’ve had to do this many times throughout the years and it never gets easier. You have to find a way to resolve your personal beliefs with your professional responsibility and somehow also make it sound good, polished…and natural. I think all writers have to find their own paths to making these types of assignments work–everyone has a different way of meeting the deadline.
I’m the type of person that loves a challenge and exploiting that in these situations is the only way I get it done: from a writer’s perspective–other than overcoming writer’s block–there really isn’t a greater challenge than penning something that is completely opposed to everything you think is right and good. But hey, writers need paychecks, too, so we accept these assignments, manipulate words the best we know how and worry about hating ourselves later. And, with the right bottle of red wine, sometimes later never comes.
Because, at the end of the day, you are just the messenger. You don’t have to carry the weight of making the decision, just the weight of making people believe it was a good one. And the fact is, people can think for themselves–they can read between your lines. No matter how hard I worked to speak in favor of Mr. Gore, President Bush still won that one.