Since my first post on this topic, I've engaged in quite a few conversations in the non-digital world to gauge people's perspectives on the variety of issues which were put into play following the release of the taped Donald Sterling conversations. I thought I would share a few responses and some of my observations and take this opportunity to clarify my feelings on the matter in case there might have been confusion. Before doing so i also want to clarify that if you look me up online you will see almost nothing published about political or legal viewpoints. My writing is almost exclusively about business related stuff or just fun things to share. The reason I picked this issue and decided to step up to the plate is because my business with LA Dezign (www.ladezign.com) is very much connected to the Internet space and the comunication strategies we employ for reputation management – both for protecting people's reputations and for enhancing them with search engine marketing and social media marketing campaigns. And part of what my team does in charting out a campaign is to look at the landscape from the perspective of the public eye. Not just what our customers want to say but more importantly, what does the audience want to hear and look for.
In this whole situation with Donald Sterling, much of what is happening by him and to him is a result of the speed at which communication happens now. There's almost no distinction between thinking something, writing it down and having it distributed en masse to the whole world. You sneeze and the world hears it. And this causes me to have a bit of a pause here because as I witness the volcanic eruption surrounding this one man over the release of a private communication behind closed doors, it makes me think about more carefully what our own communication strategies. If the privacy that we keep sacrificing willingly (through our social media declaration) has no limits to its de-evolution then it really puts a considerable strain on where a line can be drawn in the future on how i feel about things and how I act about them because now it seems even the thoughts of the mind are a captive prisoner to the will and whims of the people.
So let's sum up some responses that I heard this last week:
1. He's a scumbag and deserves everything that's happened.
2. The charity money should not have been returned.
3. Since the NBA knew about all this before, it's clear they were just trying to avoid a strike and business is business.
4. It's a mob scene and that bothers me.
5. He didn't consent to have these conversations revealed. Behind a closed door a person should not be punished for having a private conversation
6. Even if he said what I heard, it still bothers me because first of all sounded a bit rambling and secondly, it's clear she goaded him and therefore it's just not fair to judge him based on pieces of the conversation.
So let's talk about my observations and see if they have changed since last week.
First of all, something strange happened to me this weekend. My glasses broke. With my much older spare pair in hand I realized that I could see in the distance but could not see things up close. So in synagogue as I was reading from the Torah (scriptures) for the congregation I had to get my face into the scroll literally 6 inches away to see the words. This induced a very confusing experience. I could only see 3 lines at a time. This meant I kept losing my place in my head in terms of the notes and grammer because I lacked the context of the whole paragraph and sometimes just knowing where I am by referencnig the whole helps me remember the individual details. Even though I had spent a few hours during the week learning the cantillation notes and memorizing all the vowels (since they are not printed in the scrolls), because I had to embrace each verse independently, it was just far more difficult to recite them than I had been expecting.
This frustration got me thinking about the Donald Sterling hoopla because my original contention has been that the taped conversations were like verses of a much larger conversation. And, many of the people opining about the NBA's reaction have justified it by going outside the verses so to say and talking about other things like the lawsuits that have been filed against him in the past for racist renting policies. So it just bothered me that in our courts of law we are not allowed to admit prior bad acts except in specific situations but in the court of public opinion there not only seem to be no exceptions but people are willing to trample on protected rights and reward bad deeds.
The old school version of these United States also had two versions of what we would think of as courts of law. One version was the building filled with judges and lawyers and legislators connected with the written will of the people (the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and all the laws that emanated from those two documents). The other version was the one outside the building that expressed the unwritten will of the people or what I would refer to as the law of the jungle. The rules of law didn't matter in this other habitat because it was kill or be killed essentially. And the evolution of our culture and our democracy which in part has been fueled by advances in communication (think newspapers, radio, tv, and ultimately Internet and instant messaging) which reduce ignorance and also cut down the time between something happening and people learning about it (and seeing that it really happened) also served to annihilate where possible this other court of law – where the laws of nature not nurture were more likely being observed.
My point here is that in the modern democratic state that has evolved – or is supposed to have been evolved – we are supposed to avoid mob hysteria and replace it with a timely process that induces fairness not feelings, justice not corruption. Just this morning I was studying the Jewish law of written contracts and there was a law at least 1,800 years old which required a bill of divorce to be written on a document where every 2 or 3 sentences were folded over on the parchment so that the full bill of divorce required maybe 8-10 folds before it could be signed and witnessed. The tradition suggests that the reason for this was to cool the hot tempered priest who might divorce his wife too quickly. So each fold was a delaying tactic to give him time to cool down and think things through because for the priestly class, a divorce meant no return. The priest was prohibited from remarrying the same woman again.
With the advances in instant communications comes greater responsibility to sometimes slow things down. Rather than cite a pithy quote about the reasoned mind, I would just as easily submit that it's simply too easy to hit Like or Dislike without reasoning through something and just thinking about the pros and cons. Actually there is a good quote from Andrew Jackson, "Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in." My whole issue with the Sterling affair is that the speed of response we are witnessing is so fast that it puts into question whether anyone has been thinking about and considering the issues not to the point of committee but at least to the point of just spending time reasoning through things. Passion is one thing. But blind passion is another thing.
Now a word about context and nuance. Through my various conversations in the last few days, I have realized that even my own words might get misconstrued. Let's be clear, I am not defending Donald Sterling. My thoughts were about the larger issues related to privacy concerns and how the media and the people who read and watch it, are so quick to reward the bad act of this woman who released something that had no permission seeing the light of the day. And the consequences of this bad act are having very many repercussions that people are simply not thinking about because they are looking at verses instead of chapters.
Here are some facts on the ground.
1. Charities who received money from Mr. Sterling have given back money. Now no one suggested that he stole money from anyone. So they are not giving back "bad" money, just responding to a public outcry that is judging a man without any due process. And those charities are losing serious amounts of money that could help many people. At this rate, charities should then start giving back money to people who violate other ethical codes like cheating on their spouses, taking hard drugs, not paying taxes. Once that slipppery slope starts sliding, where does one draw the line? This is really a tough situation because there's no right answer. The closest thing is to use the law as a guideline and if someone breaks the law like Ivan Boesky did then that's a line that's been crossed. is that line comparable to a private conversation regardless of how reprehensible it might be.
2. The LA Times will likely lose millions of dollars now in ad revenues that could seriously impact their business and this will affect many people's jobs.
3. There are many religious viewpoints that talk about not casting the first stone until you walk a mile in someonee else's shoes or at least look at youu own backyard first. Again, I think about the law as a guideline. Sure someone can just say I don't want do business with someone who espouses certain views (whether or not he believes in them). But to castigate someone for those views publicly and start messing with other people's lives because it makes you feel better is a very different thing.
I am not suggesting that because we all might have our skeletons in our closet it means we should forgive someone else's questionable deeds.
And maybe this leads to the crux of what I did find myself coming to understand in this last week.
That likely there is no difference between someone who is a racist and someone who acts like a racist. It's quite possible that Sterling is not a racist in his heart. And yet, at the same time, it's clear that he has been acting like a racist. The tapes support both views. While at one time he says I dont have problems with black people (read that personally) he then says "don't come to my games and take pictures with them either". (Btw, i would say African American to be PC but on the tapes they use the word black, so I just want to be sensitive to the reference points).
I can't for the life of me understand why he would think that it helps his business reputation to have her avoid being seen with black people at the games. And yet when I hear the tapes, I don't get the sense that he is being terribly cogent in his dialogue. So without saying that it sounds like the ramblings of a man on diazepam, it also doesn't sound like he makes a whole lot of sense – except to his own way of thinking, warped though it may appear to me.
So I'll close this writing with a suggestion for Mr Sterling that might give him a way out of this mess, and restore a balance that could lead to a much better outcome than what I see happening now. Mr Sterling, come out now like Jimmy Swaggart did many years ago and take a stand. If on a personal level you really are not racist, and if you really felt that society wasn't ready to change its perceptions, then admit you were mistaken. Admit that you acted against your beliefs because you misjudged the situation. Argue then you were misunderstood. It's likely no one after hearing those tapes will believe you anyway. But you know what. People have short term memories. Michael Vick went to jail and resurrected his career. You may not have to go to jail but you can resurrect yourself to by making a change.
Your actions going forward can be your legacy. Just as quickly as the world pounced on you, inspire them to withdraw. Rouse your naysayors to maybe not embrace you but at least support you in your efforts to make up for the mistakes in your past. Instead of inciting anger and hatred, galvanize your media team to deliver a new message that can make a lasting change and use your mountains of wealth to fight the battle against racism and invasions of privacy not in the courts of law but in the streets that have no name.