I didn’t expect to be part of this conversation. I suppose no one ever does. Yet there I was, in the TV room at my parents’ home, listening to a hospice caseworker discuss the remainder of my mom’s life in clear, frank terms.
Twelve years ago, stage 4 breast cancer threatened my mother’s existence. Through a series of difficult medical treatments and an abundance of prayer, the miracle happened: The cancer was defeated. But as is often the case with this terrible disease, its failure was not permanent. The cancer returned last year and has proven frustratingly resilient. Treatment has been ended as Mom considers her next steps.
God has been generous with His miracles in my family’s life; I’m confident His supply hasn’t dwindled. At the same time, I know that life ends for all of us, usually sooner than we wish. How we face that fact, be it for ourselves or for a loved one, has immense importance.
As a professional communicator, I was intrigued by the approach of the caseworker. She was kind, empathetic—and brutally honest. My initial reaction was, “Wow, that’s cold!” But almost immediately I realized that anything less than honesty and transparency does a gross disservice to the patient. Evasive platitudes won’t help Mom make the decisions she must make, and they won’t help the family deal with the road that lies ahead.
From that conversation, my respect for hospice has grown.
Further, there’s a lesson to be learned by public relations and communications leaders. Our first duty—yes, first—must be to the truth. It’s our responsibility to help our audiences and our masters understand, embrace, and deal with reality.
As most of my colleagues know, I despise the term “spin” because it suggests one can manipulate reality to evade and deceive. Thus a “spin doctor,” in my view, is an expert at lying. And that’s a profession in which I want no part.
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Of course, rejecting “spin” means accepting that sometimes reality offers no escape, no alternative view to consider. So be it. Our job then becomes helping our clients adapt to that reality in an open, helpful, forward-thinking way.
The pain may be real; owning the path forward in an honest, open way is how we deal with it.
Rick Chambers is the owner and president of Rick Chambers & Associates, LLC. A version of this story first appeared on his company's blog.