Truth in Advertising

Just outside Starbucks on J Street the Girl Scouts set up a table to sell cookies.  As I was leaving with my coffee one of the 10 year olds calls out like an old-time barker, “Fresh baked cookies!”  This got my attention for the obvious reasons.  As I unlocked my bike I listened as the leader too gently said, “Don’t say that.  They are not fresh baked.”  The young scout called out again, “Fresh baked cookies!” and she and her fellow scouts giggled.  The leader said nothing more.  I did not stick around to hear whether or not the leader or a customer eventually set this young woman straight. It reminded me that we often assume that young people know better, when actually, they have to be taught better.  I remember growing up that my parents would point out newspaper ads that they thought were false advertising and express their dismay.  It was made clear to me that the store lost my parents business and that making misleading claims was out of bounds.  My mom taught me what “bait and switch” meant and to read the fine print.  Now I click “Accept the terms” on websites without reading the policy as readily as the next person.  But I do know better.

I feel sorry for the younger generation.  It is not that I think lying is on the increase in advertising or politics, rather that our outrage is gone… for people in our own tribe…  Fewer and fewer of us seem to express our disbelief or to reel our friends back in when they overstate things.   Pretty quickly extending unemployment benefits is socialism, global warming is a hoax, the Muslim President was born in Kenya, man never landed on the moon, and the holocaust never happened.  It is all much of a muchness.

I have been reminded of that young people do not necessary know what we know and have to be taught when talking to my own children about innocuous topics like etiquette (where did the rules originate) or water policy (how did we get the Central Valley Project and State Water Project).  I am also reminded to stick to the facts (as much as humanly possible) and then clearly identify when I am moving to my opinion.

Working in water policy makes me very aware of the need for this clear communication.  A recent op ed in the Sacramento Bee called the current politics around the Bay Delta water supply issues “Waterstan” because of the similarity between warring tribes in the Delta and any of the “Stans.”  I am constantly challenged to sort out my own feelings from the facts.  I also feel like an observer as I really do not personally identify with the NorCal or SoCal tribes or the Enviro tribe, per se.  I guess the Bureau of Reclamation did a good job of inculcating that the water rights belong to the State of California for the benefit of everyone in the state and that our own interests require us to sustain the environment.  And the various tribes are the reason I have a job.  I am one of the people involved in shuttle diplomacy.

This challenge also gave me a whole different perspective on Bill Moyers interview with Jonathan Haidt ( from University of Virginia.

The context for their discussion is the national political discourse and how we are divided into our camps, living in a way that does not provide much opportunity to be exposed to other peoples’ views, and looking at the world in a Manichean way that categorizes things as good versus evil.  I found the research interesting, especially as people are complex.  You would think given conservative values and belief about the nature of man they would be proponents of regulation.  And liberals should be more eager to embrace evaluating how well policies are working at solving problems.

An additional challenge we face is “demonizing” one another and the positions others take.  My personal challenge will be to maintain relationships with integrity while I work for the “demonic” Metropolitan Water District (according to the NorCal tribe) and to not get caught up in protecting my reputation--this is the biggest motivator I know for dissimulation.  Sticking to the truth is also a spiritual discipline.  The Quaker testimony of truth based on Jesus’ example inspires me to be ruthlessly honest with myself and with others.  It is so easy to justify so much of my own behavior and to judge others harshly.  It is possible with God’s help to set and keep a higher standard for myself and show compassion for those who fail, including myself.

Tomorrow is my debut at my first Bay Delta Conservation Plan hearing, so this all stops being theoretical at 1:00 p.m. PST.  I have noticed throughout my life how often this temptation arises:  the end justifies the means.  It does not, never has, and God willing, never will.  The end and the means are both important.  I will keep you posted as it is unfolds.