If you’re explaining you’re losing, so the political maxim goes. Government too often resorts to a failure to communicate effectively as being a reason for policies not succeeding.
To be criticised and to be open to criticism should be at a core of any democratic system. For the most part criticism is necessary, appropriate and is vital in bringing about accountability.
For the achievement of the best levels of accountability surely being able to critique criticism should also be part of the process.
Not to question motivation. It should always be assumed that criticism is levelled by those equally concerned in bringing about the best outcomes.
But where criticism can and should itself be criticised is on its quality. Is it informed? Is it consistent? Is it within context? Does it compare like with like?
Criticism, especially uncritical criticism (an intentional oxymoron) tends to get unquestionably accepted when a narrative gets created that those being criticised are so irredeemably flawed, that every criticism must be justified.
This is often achieved by fixating on singular aspects of wider, far more complex situations. We long for easy solutions. Such solutions are especially tempting at times of maximum frustration.
Often when we talk about communication failures what is being referred to is the inability to say what is wanted to be heard.
We all want it every way. We want progress to be achieved quickly but cautiously. We want bold action but reserve the right to say I told you so when the bold becomes seen as rash.
Those whose role it is to criticise, an important and vital role, carry a huge advantage in that their criticisms are rarely subject to the same degree of scrutiny of those they challenge.
This partially compensates for not having the same access to up to date information that who they criticise, and who they must criticise, hold.
The experience is that when those who criticise propose and do so in a grossly mistaken way, such errors are soon forgotten allowing for completely diametrical positions to be later taken.
For those criticised errors become accumulative.
The use of language is what is most important in the critical environment. There is a need for precision in the use of words, in what gets explained and how.
When questions get asked and how will elicit different responses. Such responses become conflated because the phraseology gets deemed to be incorrect.
To put it another way no wonder we have developed a system of politics where whatever you say nothing predominates. This is because, often, whenever something is said it then becomes creatively interpreted.
I suspect that when writing this I will be accused of ghosting about some issue du jour, be that management of COVID; trade agreements like CETA; or the handling of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.
I’m not at least not specifically, but in general I am. These and any other issue we subject to critical analysis, as we should.
It isn’t the case of not being able to take the heat. Every issue needs to be tempered. If I’m arguing anything here it is that there should be a responsibility for intellectual honesty on both sides of every issue.
This is what is critical.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle