Friday, February 20, 2009

Word of the month: “Communication"

Barack Obama’s recent visit to Canada, on top of sending most of the media into a schoolgirlish tizzy, pointed out many differences between the new President of the United States and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Yes, there’s charisma (Obama radiates it, Harper radiates the opposite), but the brief public appearances also showed their diametrically opposed approaches to communication. Obama is open, he listens—these are essential to his effort to find new solutions, to successfully change the way the U.S. operates and is perceived in the world, and to turn around the economy. (Many have criticized the economic stimulus program for many good reasons—like the way it gives the money to the people who brought the economy into the abyss in the first place, but I’ll let more qualified people address that question.)

Harper, on the other hand, speaks. He hands down opinions from on high. He already has the answers, because they derive directly from his economic philosophy. He doesn’t listen—in fact, he dictates what all his subordinates and cabinet ministers will say.

This difference explains much of the different appeal the two men have. Obama is seen as a beacon of hope, as a symbol of genuine change. He is seen as genuine. Harper’s image is, at best, one of a stiff, distant, cold man.

Perhaps we, as voters and members of society, should more carefully weigh the willingness to listen when making decisions about leaders.