Paul Venables on our screwed up world and what to do about it

The Venables Bell & Partners leader shares how we can all do our part in adland and society.

Let’s start with the facts.

The world is fucked up.

Division reigns. And it’s not the polite differences-of-opinion sort. It’s the we’re-polar-opposites-and-I-will-gut-you-and-swim-in-your-blood kind.

Leaders and institutions have failed.

Tolerance has evaporated.

And the iPhone doesn’t have a headphone jack. Things are pretty bad.

What can we do about it? What can brands do about it?

Well the answer isn’t very fancy. I apologize in advance for not offering an enlightened solution. Because the absolute truth is we can do the one thing we have always been responsible for doing. Take care of our little corner of the world. That’s it.

If you’re an adman, promote women, pay them equally and never use the phrase "adman" again, take diversity seriously, stop chasing awards and attention and instead chase change.

If you’re a corporate muckety muck, take some of those tax cut savings and invest them in worker wages, make a concerted effort to blow up the old boys network, stop dodging—come clean on the issues your company faces, seek out new perspectives, behave as if the world was watching (because it is), treat the little people better, treat the planet better.

If you’re a human being, challenge yourself to see differently, be a role model, be a giver, not a taker, mentor, show some respect, clean up after yourself, don’t gossip, work in new ways, like collaborate and include more, don’t throw colleagues under the bus, say things like "I’m sorry" and "I’m wrong," teach, recycle, freely give benefits of the doubt, take a chance on someone, embrace gratitude (it’s a game-changer), orient yourself toward helpfulness, don’t take the last donut without offering to cut it in half, generally be a force for good, even in the smallest of ways, sit down. Be humble.

If you’re a brand, push for positive change, model the behavior you want governments and institutions to adopt, take a chance on optimism, give voice to the voiceless, stand on integrity, promote diversity, tolerance and inclusion, emphasize the triple bottom line, succeed wildly so you can share generously, participate in the improvement of the communities you operate in.

If you’re a holding company, ah, nevermind. No hope there.

Where does all this leave the marches and petitions and letter-writing and social sharing? Participating in a good, public, peaceful protest should always be welcomed (and when it’s not, we cannot be deterred). It’s important as a society that we shed light on injustice, or give a voice to an oppressed or marginalized group. But let’s be honest. We rarely stop there. More and more, we dredge up the bile from our inner depths and write it on a placard. We tweet and retweet relentlessly in outrage and hate. And the ironic thing is, thanks to our impeccably constructed echo chambers, we are literally talking to ourselves. Or, people like us. It’s not like a Second Amendment fanatic, to pick an issue, reads a clever tweet from a Left Coast pacifist and says "Why, that’s a well-articulated point—it’s clearly time to divest myself of my 26 firearms."

If we want a more civil society, don’t we have to practice civility? If we’re attracted to the clash and the thrill of the blood-pumping anger, are we really concerned with making a better world? If we feel self-satisfied after antagonizing, are we really striving for Peace, Love & Understanding? It’s time for all of us to make an individual gut check. Why are we doing what we are doing?

I happen to be a God-fearing man, but that’s not why I love this Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta quote: "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

I love it because it starts with a head slap. We think we are so damn great. We think our opinion is so damn important (and no one else’s is). We think we are meant to do big and amazing and world-stopping things. Maybe we should get over ourselves. Maybe we should just work on our own hearts, our own intentions and focus on cleaning up our own shit. That’s what the saint is saying. That’s how the world changes. One human heart at a time.

I call us all to be aware of how we move through this world. Pay attention to every little detail. Seek out ways to lift people and situations. Avoid sowing and cultivating division. Be less ready to pounce. Be more tolerant, even of Red Sox fans. Look for unexpressed need you can respond to. Work toward unity through compassion. Yes, compassion. It is literally the only element in the universe that can fill a nasty divide.

And all this time we thought the only thing that could do that was a snarky tweet.

Them’s my two cents. Thanks for listening.

Paul Venables is the founder and chairman of Venables Bell & Partners. 

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