Since this website was released four weeks ago on October 13, I have received (via mail, phone or direct conversation) different reactions… and would like to summarise their nature.
The more numerous sofar are those ‘readers’ who know me well and participated with me in one or more of the episodes I narrate.
Their remarks are more questions and impressions on how they lived those events, than critical comments on how I remember them.
Another, smaller but apparently growing group, includes those who say..but you forgot this or… why didn’t you cover that?
Food for thought.
A few expressed offense by some remarks I wrote about them or their ‘friends and family’. One actually refused to read the book and expressed anger for having even been mentioned (someone must have advised..).
Finally, another young professional I much respect, Biagio Oppi (a communication director working in Italy for a multinational company and member of the Board of the Global Alliance) wrote in his Italian blog (www.pranista.com) and then in the www.ferpi.it , the website of the Italian PR federation) an intelligent and stimulating review implying that, in fact, the ‘glow worms’ metaphore used in the title is possibly related more to my profession than to the expression my mother often used, as I narrate in the book, to remove unpleasant events, people, memories from her daily life.
This is an interesting insight that stimulates the idea of a complex correlation between memoirs and history and, more specifically, between biased memoirs and the history of our profession.
I believe that Biagio is intuitively correct.
Clearly, the ‘glow worms’ concept raises associations with ideas of lightness, movement, short termness, fickleness, irrelevancy, ambiguity, uncertainty….. all expression of the many stereotypes that globally identify our profession in the public discourse.
To the contrary, in the book I argue that for most of my long professional, educative and scholarly life I have battled (with admittedly minor success) on the other camp, explaining that relationships with publics are an essential and intricately relevant part of our everyday lives, with only some of us who consciously decide to make this task a substantial part of our professional lives and prove themselves able to find employers or clients willing to pay for our services.
An activity that can do (and certainly does) much harm to some, and can do (and certainly does) much good to others… depending on the intentions and quality of the interests they are hired to represent, as well as on our own professional and societal concept of responsibility.
On the definition/description of these services that incessantly change over time, the debate is endless and by no means should it stop, but I will spare it to you now.
What is interesting in Biagio’s intuition is the correlation with the inherent biases of writing memoirs and the writer’s natural aspiration to reassure readers, who expect to the very least that in what they have decided to read, the framework and context are generically reliable.
Of course memoirs are always biased, as more or less consciously the narrator tends to remember the events where exposure is acceptable. I explicitly proved this point in a recent paper I presented in the Bournemouth International History of public relations conference (see here http://www.biasedmemoirs.com/download/Appendix-2.pdf) .
However, this does not mean that students, scholars and historians should not consider memoirs as a reliable source for their work…but they must be aware and weigh these memoirs for what they are: biased…. as long as they also agree that all sources -disregarding the author, the channel or the form- are also biased.
History is frequently written by winners, and even when they are written by losers the reader needs to be critically aware of either of the biases.
Equally, oral sources are also biased.
To sum it up, possibly the only ‘objectively true’ finding (whatever this may mean) is that history should be written by critically evaluating all available sources and with the awareness that, since the beginning of time, individuals (proto pr’s?) have exercised themselves in creating as many sources as possible to ensure that one and/or another interpretation of events would prevail: thus the ‘public discourse’.
Admittedly, the majority of these proto pr’s worked for the winners….
The world goes round and round…. and let’s face it: for those of us who are educators, coaches or mentors by profession and/or by skills and competencies, the only and best thing we can possibly do is to stimulate a critical mindset in those who have the fortune or misfortune to listen to us.