Small People’s Emotional Psychiatry

“….”I’ll leave the emotional psychiatry to others.”At a White House briefing, Robert Gibbs, the president’s press secretary, shrugged off criticism from some politicians and columnists that the president had not been emotional enough in his response to the spill….”

Robert Gibbs is good. He tried to downplay Obama’s perceived lack of emotion and came up with the slightly derogatory notion of emotional psychiatry. But in this case, he made a mistake. The spill is not about public relations. And, honestly – is anything this day and age about public relations?

I’ve been closely watching the events unravel. I have a double take on this major event that is shaping the public agenda not only on environmental issues but on leadership, anti-heroism and public antipathy.

But first I need to offer the following disclosure: I have worked for BP for several years – served as the public affairs director in Greece and was part of group marketing, working on global campaigns. I know the game, the company, the philosophy, the principles, and some of the key people are my friends.

I hate what happened.

So, do all my friends at BP – and no, not because their stock options have gone down the tube for now, or potential job losses due to loss of market cap, or corporate reputation and brand identity and all the shareholder and consumer wrath and those dividend cuts. People who work for oil, tobacco companies or big pharma – they are people, too. Ethics, principles, morals – every idea and sense of obligation and responsibility exists at all levels, regardless of jobs, specialties and affiliations. Stereotyping is dangerous – and it leads to faulty conclusions. But, I am not here to oppose meritorious crusaders like Michael Moore, either.

This is a monumental and fatal error. People died. Somehow the 11 lost lives seem to have been forgotten. The gush in the Gulf,  the oil slick, the marine life, the beaches and the oil barrels, the environment and all the words flashing and twirling and zillions of dollars to cover it all – and all this is somehow dehumanized.

And having gone back to study the opinion polls and the palpable public outcry and anger, the “emotional psychiatry” turned on its head and it’s now lashing out to reign the bad guys. Obama is making BP pay. Emotional psychiatry is turning to escrow accounts, and compensation – but somehow I am left with a bad taste – and I am among those who can see the other side of the argument due to my past affiliation.

But, the latest news did me in and I am not one to shy away from taking stands.  In a brilliant move, that even Robert Gibbs couldn’t have orchestrated better, the “bad” guys make it easy to confirm they are also nitwitted.“We care about the small people,” said BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, yesterday! This will now be the phrase that will also go down in history among the major blunders. But, I insist: This is not about public relations.

Leaders and heroes are those who have the ability to understand, empathize, feel and act on what they see, hear and dream about. Leaders cannot lead unless they deal with the real human beings who buy and use/utilize their products, ideas and services. Those who have their heads in the clouds can only go so far. At some point, the people, these very same “small” people who are also the “big” people who can make or break someone’s future will react – and that reaction has catastrophic potential.

So, this is not about public relations. It’s about people and our survival with each other on planet earth. It is not about small or big people, emotional psychiatry or any other beautiful, ugly or made up phrase. It’s about us and the reality that leadership is much tougher to exercise than uttering a few conciliatory and fake-sounding words…

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