I’m not one of the 566,235 people who have liked Pastor Rick Warren’s Facebook page — no offense intended, it’s just that I have a hard enough time keeping up with my Facebook feed as it is — but I was troubled when I learned that his page had posted an image of a determined-looking young woman in Red Army uniform with the caption “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.”
By the time I looked for the page, the offending post had been removed along with its 3000 likes, the comments pointing out the painfully inappropriate image, Pastor Warren’s defensive “It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me!”, and the 180 likes for that comment which I found just as troubling.
For those who may not be familiar with this cultural history and its continuing impact, I encourage you to read Rick Warren, Cultural Sensitivity and Mission; It would not be funny if I said Rick Warren was the ‘Rick’ in ‘Rickshaw Rally’; and Dear Pastor Rick Warren, I think you don’t get it. If you still think the Red Army reference is funny after reading these excellent posts, well I guess I’m glad that I don’t have a sense of humour! I am indebted to these writers for seeking to preserve the record and to address the issues of cultural sensitivity and mission, humour and human misery, feedback and response, and much more.
The only thing I’d like to add from my writerly perspective is that this is a clear example of missing the point. From Pastor Warren’s comments, I’m quite sure that the original post was intended as a light-hearted and positive portrayal of the Saddleback staff, but the impact of the image and caption was just the opposite. When this was first brought to his attention, he missed the point, and in the comments back and forth that followed, his original message about the dedicated and hard-working staff was lost. His readers missed the point that he was trying to make because of the way it was being communicated.
I think there are a number of lessons here for writers:
- Culture matters. Whether it’s a Facebook status, blog post, sermon or other form of communication, historical and cultural references need to be used with care. Make sure you know what they mean and that they communicate in the way that you intend.
- Communication goes both ways. It’s not only about what we put out there — it’s also about how it’s received. With social media, the response time is much more personal and immediate than in print, but in both it pays to pay attention to your audience.
- Images are powerful. For effective communication, words and images need to work together. In this example, another image with the same caption would have made his point.
What’s your take on this? What lessons would you identify? Please leave a comment.