What is Real?

October 25, 2009 § Leave a comment

I read a fascinating essay in the Wall Street Journal this week that makes the point that we just don’t know what to believe any more. Dan Henninger’s essay, which he playfully titles Wonderland –We’re all Balloon Boys Now, notes how reality and fantasy have become so confused and blurred that we don’t know what is real or waht to believe. Perception Management has become so sophisticated and has gone to such bizarre extremes that we can hardly tell the difference between the legitimate and the absurd, between form and substance, and we’re never quite sure where reality ends and fantasy begins. With all the spin doctors, photo-shop make-overs, plastic surgery, performance enhancing drugs, lip-synching, 3D special effects, clever marketing strategies, public relations and personal branding specialists, the ubiquitous stretchers of the truth and the outright liars, we’re constantly asking ourselves, “Is this real, or am I being had?”

Even ‘reality TV’ is fake. There is the famous unattributed claim that “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” So who and what can we believe and trust? What is real?

The Washington Post “On Leadership” discussion, to which I contribute from time to time, recently asked the question: “What is it about airline Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and his ‘miracle on the Hudson’ that has so fascinated the public? What does it say about the public’s hunger for leadership?” My response noted that we hunger for authenticity, and Capt Sullenberger and what he and his cew did to save the lives of the people on his airliner was real, genuine, and required no spin or make-up. He and his crew had worked hard to be very competent at their jobs, and delivered on their commitment to protect the lives of their passengers in an emergency. No PR spin, no excuses. I believe that America has become so used to ‘posers,’ and opportunists grand-standing for personal gain, manipulating perceptions to gain favor with this or that constituency, that when someone genuine steps up and does their job well because that is who they are and what they believe in, we are shocked and amazed. Capt Sullenberger, honest cops, members of the military, corporate leaders who spurn the spotlight, but give generously and sometimes anonymously to good causes – these capture the moral imagination of America and fans the embers of what is best in us. When we get confused about what is real and what is fake, what is sincere and what is a mere attempt to manipulate us and our emotions toward some other end, Capt Sullenberger reminds us of what a genuine hero is, and of that part of the American character that we can continue to believe in.

You can read Dan Henninger’s entertaining essay in WSJ Wonderland –We’re all Balloon Boys Now, by clicking here.

You can read my post in response to the Washington Post question on America’s response to Capt Sullenberger by clicking here

You can view Capt Sullenberger’s short video recorded interview on Washington post by clicking here.

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