Carpe Diem T. SHER SINGH
Seize the Day
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Anuvinder Singh, a young Canadian IT professional based in Calgary (Alberta, Canada) was, like all of us around the world, glued to the television, following the coverage on the Wisconsin massacre.
I should add here, before I go any further, that I have never met Anuvinder, and never heard of him or spoken to him, until a few days ago.
He contacted me during the week following the tragedy. He too, like all of us around the world, was deeply troubled by what he had witnessed on Sunday … not just the story of the senseless killings, but the mauling of the Sikh perspective by our “spokespersons”, live on air, for the whole world to marvel at.
Given his skills and area of expertise, he had dug out the Google analyses of the internet traffic in the United States for Sunday, August 5, specifically pertaining to three search terms: “Sikh”, Sikh Temple”, and “Sikh Temple Shooting”.
He studied the figures and the graphs - please look at one of them on the top right of this page - and was able to garner the following facts:
1 That upon the outbreak of the news of the tragedy on the media, public interest in the US in matters Sikh shot up, almost instantly, to a sky-high level. The starting point, as you’ll see in the graph, was negligible, that is, close to rock-bottom.
2 That as the day progressed, as human nature is wont to do, interest in the same subjects began to wane gradually and steadily. You’ll see that the graph shows that interest plummeted from the beginning of the day to the end of the day.
3 A second graph - please look at Graph # 2 - shows that, temporarily, for that one day alone, interest in “Sikhs” shot up from minimal to a point higher than that in “Christian”, “Muslim” and “Jewish”. This graph also shows that before the fateful morning, general interest in things Sikh was well below the other three.
4 Anuvinder has, since then, but this time at my behest, pulled out another graph from Google, this one tracking the level of interest, starting from the morning of August 5 , through the days that followed. [Please see Graph #3].
5 You will note how the graph continues to take a nose-dive. The wonderful interviews on the morning of Tuesday, August 6 and thereafter could only, at best, reach a mere fraction of the audience we had - captive, eager and hungry - on August 5.
For the purposes of this morning’s focus, there is only one conclusion we can derive from the evidence Anuvinder has so meticulously put before us: that the first day of the tragedy, namely, Sunday, August 5, 2012, was an unprecedented opportunity for our community to try and dispel information about ourselves and to put forth correct and accurate, detailed and comprehensible information before the American public and the world - the very lack of which we and all experts point to as one of the main reasons behind the occurrence of the tragedy!
As we have discussed during the last two days, we not only squandered the opportunity, but in fact allowed fools to occupy the field and add to the confusion and misinformation about us.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that the drop in interest is anyone’s fault. What I’m saying - as I’ve been in the last two days - is that the first day, the first day’s news cycle, was the time that the primary media work needed to be done. Having missed that news cycle, what you do after that is of far lesser consequence or benefit.
But let us move on.
Where do we go from here?
First things first. What we need to do, we need to do today.
If our institutions set up committees to study this issue and begin a series of navel-gazing exercises, we will end up doing nothing … and will wake up again one morning facing the next crisis but the same old incompetence … and the coterie of clowns and idiots.
1 Each institution needs to ensure that there is a 24/7 monitoring of calls to its central desk by at least one paid staff member, who needs to understand that this part of his/her duty is as important as anything he/she does in the office during the week. This duty should not be treated as an after-thought; it is central to what you do.
2 Each institution must have an updated list of its key spokespeople, with all contact info at the finger-tips, available to all key-members of the staff at all times, but especially those on 24/7 on-call duty.
3 A clear, step-by-step protocol needs to be set up for instant application when a crisis is at hand.
4 All of the above cost no money and no more than an hour or two to implement. It should be done today. Remember, statistics has no memory … the next crisis could be today!
Please do not shrug off this urgent step by saying to yourself that you already have something like this in place. Because whatever you do or did, it did not work! It needs to be fixed. Today.
You need to understand that the community appreciates all that you do, but is still outraged at the dropping of the ball. Sure, you may be a Rolls Royce amongst our institutions, but what good is a Rolls Royce if it won’t start at an instant’s notice when you need it?
IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS
1 Please identify a minimum of two top-notch professionals in every major population center in the country. Ideally, in every state in the US, every province in Canada.
2 They need to be young and healthy, professionally educated in North America, speak impeccable English, have a thorough knowledge about Sikhi, be well-dressed - in modern garb, not as Nihangs! - and not married to or unable to distance themselves (while doing community advocacy) from personal agendas and political affiliations.
3 They shouldn’t be related to each other … if one is tied up, you want the other to be free.
4 They should be gainfully employed, and able to take a day or two off at a moment’s notice.
5 Then train them! Give them classes in media, public speaking, writing, PR. Re media: don’t confuse newsprint with radio, and TV, and social media. Each is a different animal. Train them in each.
6 None of them should be prima donnas. They should be willing to follow instructions. And be adept and willing at being learners while being leaders.
7 Ideally - and I know I’m sticking my head out on this - they should be North America trained lawyers.
8 Put them all on an instant-call list, and set up a protocol … as to what are the steps to be taken by them when they get a call from HQ.
9 Have a complete media-spokespersons list at your finger-tips, to be distributed to the nation’s media at a moment’s notice.
LONG-TERM (WHICH MEANS AFTER A FEW WEEKS - NOT YEARS!)
All our advocacy institutions need to get together within the next 4 weeks to start working on a long-term strategy.
What the community now needs is a separate media-watch entity which will take over all of the above, and free the hands of the institutions to go about tending to their regular mandates.
This is essential to avoid duplication of energies, resources and expense.
It’ll help work out existing conflicts and rivalries - they still exist, despite protestations to the contrary - and lubricate a better working relationship between our institutions.
Finally, if you cannot do it, go public and say so. So that someone else in the community will take up the task. In such a case, co-operate by relinquishing your involvement in the area, as well as the resources you have built up to date.
THE COMMUNITY’S ROLE
None of the above can be done without the financial backing of the community. If we don’t put our money where our mouth is, then we should shut up … and continue to suffer every time things go wrong, and be ready to deal with the consequences.
Don’t wait to be asked. Figure out what you can spare. Identify a Sikh agency, institution or cause you’d like to support or help build, and then give them the funds … generously.
With grace … and no strings attached.
Finally, the institutions I have named - The Sikh Coalition, Saldef, United Sikhs, SikhRI, Ensaaf, and there many others doing good work like them - are worthy ones, doing excellent work to date.
That is precisely the reason I have gone after them, so that they become better and stronger. If I thought any lesser of them, I wouldn’t waste my time on them.
A few good souls have asked me if I have a personal gripe against them.
You be the judge.
The next time you go to the doctor and she tells you that something is wrong with your system, or that you need to take a certain medicine, ask her if she holds a personal gripe against you.
Conversation about this article
1: Niranjan Kaur (London, United Kingdom), August 15, 2012, 10:50 AM.
Thank you, Anuvinder ji and Sher ji. This is a well-laid out presentation. You've got my attention. We need to implement this plan in our respective nations. We have neglected this area too long, thinking that mainstream communities will do what is fair and what is right. They won't. If we don't, no one will do it for us. Again, thank you for this ... I'm sure it's taken a lot of guts to be this forthright.
2: Simran Singh (United Kingdom), August 15, 2012, 10:53 AM.
The prescription is as accurate as the diagnosis. Inevitably, not every Sikh organization will have the willingness or the capacity to implement this initiative. However it takes just a few well intentioned and able individuals to make all the difference. The US Sikh community is at a crossroads. I pray it will seize the moment truly and set an example by embracing the opportunity for transition. Let the self-defeating insular amateurs be replaced by competent leaders for whom results and not recognition are the motive. As a realist, I do not expect an overwhelming implementation of Sher's remedy. However a mere recognition of the need for change will be a great start. It is to our common shame that very few of our organizations have the vision and skills to withstand comparison with the well organized PR and media operations which other faiths deploy. At the very least, this is a timely, though painful, analysis. It'll bear fruit.
3: Baljinder Singh (USA), August 15, 2012, 11:38 AM.
Thank you for giving tangible evidence to what was until now purely anecdotal. I happen to know that many of those working for the groups in question are poring over this piece this morning. I hope they'll have the good sense to act swiftly, and thus win greater trust and confidence of the community. If they respond well and demonstrate the results publicly, it'll bring them greater and much-needed financial support.
4: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), August 15, 2012, 12:48 PM.
And one more thing. A reader has just pointed out to me that I have omitted one important thing: the spokesperson should have an untainted record. That is, he says, he should not be like me. So true. I agree whole-heartedly. Thank you.
5: M. Kaur (Maryland, USA), August 15, 2012, 1:55 PM.
@ T.Sher - this is the reason why we cannot move forward. People, please grow up and look at the big picture here.
6: Harinder Singh (Chicago, Illinois, USA), August 15, 2012, 2:46 PM.
Meticulously written and argued. Now, this is what advocacy is about: a calm and collected, informed, rational, clear, unemotional, understated putting forth of your case. I think what is to be learnt from these pieces, more than WHAT the author says, is HOW to say it. As Marshall McLuhan once said: the medium is the message. T. Sher Singh's writings are the very embodiment of that principle.
7: Rosie Kaur (Chandigarh, Punjab), August 15, 2012, 3:42 PM.
The media indeed does strange things to people. I just can't understand the phenomenon: people instantly turn into blithering idiots when dealing with the media. To begin with, why does everybody think that anybody can be a media spokesperson, that you need no specialized skills, that all you need is a tie around your neck and a splash of cologne on your shirt? Or, then, the other end of the spectrum: people stand up before a camera or microphone and make the most basic of mistakes, say the silliest of things - stuff that no 10-year old child would say or do. Everybody goes goofy with the media. Look at this current situation here before us: we have total morons who think they are ready to be TV anchors. And then, you have our professionals who neglect to take the most basic of steps in attending to their media duties. I am simply flabbergasted. What T. Sher Singh ji has said is pure common sense, no more. Why has it become necessary to spell it out like this? Is our swagger coming in the way of our thought processes?
8: Khushal Singh (Wisconsin, USA), August 15, 2012, 6:18 PM.
The final section in the piece above - "The Community's Role" - is central to the remedy. Remember the Punjabi saying? "jinni cheeni, unni mitthi!" - "If you want your tea sweeter, add some more sugar!" The quality of the service you'll get from your institutions will depend on how much support you give them. No ifs and buts ...
9: Sunny (London, England), August 15, 2012, 7:21 PM.
So let's say, one of the organizations takes on the duty and appoints a competent spokesperson, fine no issues here. However, what if another crisis happens, the likelyhood is the media will arrive on the doorsteps of the gurdwara looking for an interview, so what's to stop the same individuals from stepping forward as in the Wisconsin case and making an absolute mockery again? We need a tie in whereby all gurdwaras in the local region simply refer such queries/interviews to the appointed spokesperson(s), be it national or regional. Unfortunately, achieving this will be harder than finding competent spokespeople.
10: Gurbux Singh (Chatsworth, California, USA), August 15, 2012, 7:37 PM.
First let me thank Sher Singh ji for calling a spade a spade and not sugarcoating his comments to please some people. We need spokespersons that can speak the language and articulate with conviction and confidence. I heard the interview of Rajwant Singh on CNN in my car and my wife and I were both flabbergasted at his communication skills, if any. And he was representing us? Come on. Now look how nicely Narinder Singh of the Sikh Coalition conducted himself and deftly handled the question about wearing of the turban among Sikhs. He did not go into a soliloquy and start pontificating like some clowns and morons were doing. I am sorry, Sher ji, for stealing your thunder in describing them but you nailed it right and you have my full support.
11: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), August 15, 2012, 8:04 PM.
The point raised by Sunny (#9) is an important and valid one. We must remember, however, that news anchors and reporters hate having to deal with people who can't tell their stories properly, or who don't make sense. Why? Because it makes the news show look bad, and they then lose the audience, which then switches to another channel. Therefore, as soon as the news reporters get connected with a number of good spokespeople who are easily available when needed, who are honest and fair, who do not get emotional and do not exaggerate, and are not there to get publicity, they'll put their names in their proverbial RolloDesks and throw out the others. It'll take some time, but it'll happen for sure. Soon, the media will stop calling the clowns. As for what happens when the reporter turns up at the gurdwara door: almost the same process, but in reverse. Our institutions must help groom local spokespeople who will then turn up at the scene ASAP, once there is an incident. It'll be a relief for the sangat to have someone come in and take charge and tell their story in intelligent sound-bites. They themselves will silence the clowns and push them out of the way. I have personally lived through these very stages and can assure you that that is exactly how it will unfold. But ... only if we put forward solid people who are not only skilled and trained, but also cannot be swayed by personal agendas, mischief, threats or lures. Sikhs tend to be skeptical of newcomers on the scene but once trust has been established, they'll stick to him/her/them all the way.
12: Rosalia (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), August 16, 2012, 8:40 PM.
Basically, it sounds as if all the Sikh organizations need to attend a conference on crisis communications. Many crisis communications experts exist- but the game plan is always the same: http://www.inc.com/guides/how-to-communicate-in-a-crisis.html