Communication is equal parts science and art.  The science part has the potential to be easy.  If you can figure out the rules, then you’re set.  The problem is the other element — the art of communication.  There’s no rules for that part of it which makes it difficult for literal-minded folks when they try to understand what makes for effective communication.

HOPE IS FOR WIMPS.  Australian senior coral reef ecologist Dr. Roger Bradbury succeeded in doing something the International Society for Reef Studies failed at — he communicated effectively to the general public.

A couple of weeks ago Australian senior coral reef biologist Roger Bradbury threw a Molotov cocktail into the coral reef research and conservation communities with his OpEd in the NY Times titled, “A World Without Coral Reefs.”  The coral reef listservs and blogs lit up with impassioned analysis of Bradbury’s dire message.  In the end, the scientists locked on to the tone of “hopelessness” in his essay, using that to dismiss it — saying his effort was no good because there is this blanket rule that, “You have to give people hope.”  He violated that rule, therefore he didn’t know what he was doing and was no help in the efforts to save coral reefs.
If only communication were as simple as a set of air tight rules.  This takes me back to editing classes in film school — with all the earnest Ivy League students in my entering class at USC, who had shockingly high undergraduate GPAs because they were so good at following rules.  All you had to do was give them the set of rules and they would excel.  No worries.  So that’s what they wanted in editing class — “Just tell us the rules” for how you glue one piece of film to another.
And there are some general rules, but nothing air tight.  In general you want to cut on action and not cross the proscenium line, but … when you look at the films of the truly gifted and creative filmmakers, they break all the rules.  Proving there are no air tight rules. Same for communication.  Same for the topic of “hope.”
I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again.  Bradbury’s OpEd kicks ass.  It was needed. Did you ever hear Barbra Streisand talk about her mother?  She was told by her mother she would NEVER amount to anything.  She showed her.  Same for Bradbury’s OpEd.  Here’s to hoping someone powerful read it, caught fire, and is now determined to make certain coral reefs don’t go extinct.  There’s a much higher chance of that happening than of someone reading a milquetoast statement about, “It’s not too late …”  Once again, this is the art of communication. Yes, there are some general rules, and giving people hope is one of them.  But the truly great communicators are not bounded by the rules. Bradbury’s essay ended up in the NY Times and has been read by an enormous audience.  That is called effective communication.