How Damaging Are Mixed Messages? Pt 1

How Damaging Are Mixed Messages? Pt 1

The prime directive of leadership is to hold the focus.  People need to understand what they’re doing, why they are doing it, and why doing it matters.  And why it matters is that doing what we do holds the inherent promise of making a difference, of changing things for the better.


Yet there’s an inherent problem in that promise.  Because when positive change is the promise, but everything actually remains the same or gets worse, that’s a mixed message. Because the only way a person can make sense of such a message is to draw the conclusion that ‘when change is promised, nothing will change.’  I’m sure you can see how this kind of confusion can paralyze our ability to make decisions and move things forward.

You’ll find evidence of cynicism in the public spaces where people gather to vent their exhaustion.  Bulletin boards, graffiti and anonymous blog postings, talk radio and the rise of hateful and anger promoting TV and radio personalities, all speak to the distress and confusion that cynical people feel from trying to make sense of mixed messages that don’t make sense.  In this way,  cynicism breeds more cynicism.  Cynicism is corrosive, in that it undermines good intentions.  Cynicism is obstructive, in that it sabotages momentum.  And cynicism is destructive, in that it murders creativity and initiative.  

Mixed messages give birth to cynicism, then nurture it to keep it alive.  And we, as a society, are awash in them.  Here are just a few examples of the kind of mixed messages we deal with in our social and cultural life. 


Healthcare, in large part, has little to do with either health, or care. Usually, it is a term that refers to disease management.  And iatrogenic (doctor caused, or caused by medical care)  disease is, by some estimates the third leading cause of death.  That’s a lot of carelessness in healthcare.  No wonder the price of healthcare keeps going up!  And I’m just getting warmed up. 

Last I looked, drugs (pharmaceutical products, not the illegal ones) are the 4th leading cause of death in the US.  The FDA is tasked with regulating drugs to protect consumer safety.  Yet it is staffed by industry insiders whose former companies stand to gain from regulatory decisions. The pharmaceutical industry funds its own review and approval proecess.  More than a dozen prescription drugs have been taken off the market since 1997, due to serious side effects — and in some cases, this was only after hundreds of injuries had occurred, some leading to death. 

Healthcare is a big issue for me personally.  But I know that the same arrangement can be found in numerous government regulatory agencies, who are tasked to monitor industry.  We’ve seen what happens in the latest financial meltdown when regulation is lax.  When the fox is guarding the hen house, that’s a mixed message.  

In movies and magazines, it’s obvious that thin is still in.  Americans spend more than $33 billion a year on weight control services and products.  25% of men and 45% of adult women are trying to lose weight while I write this. It’s also true that obesity is an epidemic.   Last I looked, some 55 percent of people in the United States are overweight and 33 percent of those are obese. And the kids are following the lead of the grownups. 1 in 5 children are obese and that number is increasing daily. There is also an increase in Type II diabetes. What’s the bill for obesity?  About $70 billion a year.  Obesity related illness is the second leading cause of death, killing 300,000 people each year. 


Let’s keep going.  The Wealthiest nation in the world is the deepest in debt.

The United States of America, long known as the ‘land of the free and home of the brave,’ is number one in the world when it comes to the imprisonment of it’s own citizens. 

The Republican party, which is ostensibly the champion of limited government, fiscal restraint and individual freedom from government intrusion, occupied the White House from 2000-2008. During that time, the debt mushroomed, domestic spying by government began, and the size of the government itself grew dramatically, including the creation of the gigantic bureacracy of Homeland Security. 

In western society, we claim to be all for marriage and family values. Yet our divorce rate is about half of all marriages, and adultry is common.  All the while, the morally superior condemn the morally inferior, right up until the time they themselves get caught committing the sins they condemn.  

When we think of Emergency Management, we think about Hurricane Katrina, and the mixed message, “Good job, Brownie!” 

Conservatives haven’t been into conserving much of anything

China loves capitalism, but western governments believe in massive state intervention in the financial sector. 


Children’s games are filled with violence.

Parents and teachers tell kids just say no to drugs, but TV says ‘Take a pill!’  

Is it any wonder, then, that in today’s slang, ‘sick’ means ‘cool.’  

Some parents say ‘Do what I say, not what I do.’  

Some parents tell their children they love them, then withdraw their love when the children fail to measure up to their expectations.  

And what of the mixed messages that businesses send their employees?


We value your work.  But we’re shipping it overseas.

This was the worst quarter in the company’s history.  So we’re giving our CEO another raise. 

We care about the community.  Oh, and we’d like to announce another round of layoffs.

And what of managers?  They send their share of mixed messages as well.  

My door is always open.  But not now. 

You must find a way to cut costs.  Like my new chair and laptop?

Think outside of the box.  But remember, that’s not the way we do things.  


We’ve seen our share of mixed messages in the 2008 political campaign for President. McCain promised us a campaign of ideas, of decency, of honest debate over honest differences.  McCain has gone to new lows in his character attacks on his opponent. 

And then, there’s that amazing doublespeak gift that Sarah Palin has.  Here’s a video clip that highlights her gift. 

Barack Obama promised us a transpartisan campaign.  I think he did his best to stay focused on a campaign of issues while all kinds of distortions and double standards were thrown at him.  But his campaign has also sent out mixed messages.  For a new kind of politics, Obama now seems to think he must do what politicians have done for so long, in essence promising the classic answer to our woes:  A chicken in every pot.  


Love of God is the #1 reason why people hate each other all over the world.

The pro-life people tend to be pro-gun people

Journalism now means entertainment.  


I could be up writing all night.  So I’ll stop now.  

I’ve really enjoyed this, but it’s not much fun.

I wish I had a better report to make on all this.  And it’s great to have all this material to draw on.  

Let me be clear.  This is the first of a two part message about mixed messages. In the second part, we’ll talk about what can be done and why.  But for now, I simply want to highlight the problem and damage of mixed messages, and hopefully make them obvious. 

I’ll finish on this topic in my next post.  That’s no mixed message.  You can hold me to my word and count on it.  

You can also comment on it!  

be well,