Communication can’t solve everything. But can communication solve anything?

Are we bound for nothing more than wrath, anger and partisan bickering? The author believes there’s hope for something better—and it starts with you.

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About communication, I guess I ought to know about all there is, by now.

My first job was right here, at Ragan Communications. I came to work here in 1992, for Mark Ragan and his father Larry, who had founded the company in 1969, the year of my birth. I immediately read everything the old man had written.

The only thing automatic about Larry’s manual typewriter was the tough prose it regularly rattled off.

In columns in the weekly communication trade newsletter, “The Ragan Report,” Larry stood out by telling the truth, rather than the professionally polite.

He once mocked a prissy academic study that offered a brittle definition of “excellence in public relations” with a column headlined, “Does selling scads of brassieres constitute ‘excellent public relations’?” You really didn’t need to read the rest. (But you did.)

In 1974, Larry explained that communication problems usually stem from behavior problems. Of Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Nixon, he wrote: “Boys, you weren’t good. Bad PR.”

Larry was at his toughest when he was bringing communicators up short. It’s easy, when you’re in the position he was—at the center of a community of professionals who want to feel virtuous and important—to tell people what they want to hear, and collect their checks like so many thank-you notes.

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