“Those who have no compassion have no wisdom. Knowledge, yes; cleverness, maybe; wisdom, no. A clever mind is not a heart. Knowledge doesn’t really care. Wisdom does.”
The Tao of Pooh
There was some recent controversy over whether a blogger’s disclosure as it pertains to professional affiliation is enough to garner trust with his or her readers.
In this case, the blogger happened to be Chris Brogan, one of the most respected and celebrated thought leaders in the social media space; a guy who devotes most of his time and talent to helping businesses and individuals like me understand and integrate social media into their communication strategies.
For more background on the controversy, read Chris’ post in response to the criticism or Amber Naslund’s very thoughtful reaction post on the sanctity of social media.
There has been a lot of back-and-forth discussion on whether paid-for posts are ethical or not, but I think this misses the larger point.
My comment on Chris’ post summarizes my position on this issue:
You [Chris] did absolutely nothing wrong. In fact, you lived up to your own guidelines that you’ve established as your own best practices. We should all have that much integrity.
What I find most disturbing lately, is this tendency to be overly dogmatic about social media. Dogma related to “journalistic” ethics and blanket policies (drawing a line in the sand) that trump personal relationships are leftovers from an old media culture based on a professional filter.
For consumers to filter their information through a professional filter, established guidelines written by someone in authority needed to be present. This is no longer the case. People can define their experience with businesses and individuals through a personal filter, or a social filter. The social filter is much more powerful and meaningful than the professional filter ever was. This notion, in theory, SHOULD be liberating.
The interesting thing to me is that with this newfound freedom to define things like ethics and best practices in terms of personal, individual evaluation, people go back to clamoring for the old blanket policies. Can’t we do any better than that? Besides, I thought we were all making this up as we went along.
Social media changes the rules
Understanding the fact that social media is inherently game changing with respect to business and communication, and understanding the implications of this fact. are two very different things.
The old rules and old media treated us like children. They told us that we could not navigate tricky situations based on relationships and case-by-case evaluations of business and personal endeavors.
They kept business and personal relationships separate. They told us that we needed distant experts to guide our thinking on everything from household products to political theory. They told us that we could not be objective if we also profited from our endeavors.
Phrases like “conflict of interest” and even “slippery slope” were invented to give us the sense that without rules, ethics, dogma, we would have no order, no integrity, no trust. They did our thinking for us.
Institutions of authority crafted and enforced the rules, ethics and guidelines that were supposedly decided upon with everyone’s best interest in mind, but they were always really about preserving the institutions they served.
This notion of elevating the institution above the human is why we have so many grey areas in any real-world practical application of these types of rules.
The grand philosophical difference is that to use social media tools effectively, the human being becomes more important than the institution. Through this new type of communication, the individual experience becomes more important, or at least as important as the institution or the brand.
The way of the Tao
I understand I may be getting a little too esoteric for some people to stay with me on this, but I really do think this is important. I can’t help but think that social media offers a new opportunity to be unencumbered by the old dogmas.
The ancient wisdom of the Tao teaches that we can achieve a more holistic and dynamic conception of the world through personal experience and compassion rather than a static worldview dependent on fictitious absolutes.
I am not endorsing acting without integrity, but I am endorsing reliance on the personal. The old ways taught us that we were either incapable or lacked the time to make sound decisions based on our own experience. They taught us we need rules in order to behave with the interest of others at heart or to consider the greater good.
Honest disclosure is almost always enough to foster trust in any relationship. What more do we really need from one another?
I think we have all experienced or witnessed an episode in our lives where the applicable rules may have been clever and intelligent, but ultimately lacked compassion and wisdom.
For the first time in a very long time in our evolution, social media tools offer us the opportunity to inject wisdom into the way we share information and engage in commerce.
It seems to me that the old rules have done little to foster compassion, understanding and community, but have done an excellent job of creating conflict and division.
Am I naive to believe that these new tools offer the potential for something greater than the purveyors of the old rules could have ever envisioned or even permitted?
We already know that the old rules don’t apply, so how can we help each other along this path toward something better?
Photo by FelipeArte