We Could All Learn From “The Jerk.”

The Jerk, starring Steve Martin, has long been one of my favorite movies. Not only is it filled with great comedy, it is filled with wisdom and life lessons. One such lesson is represented by the scene in which Martin’s character, Navin, first sees his name listed in the phone book. “I am somebody!” he exclaims.

That should be meaningful to all of us since it represents the human need for acknowledgement and respect. In fact, I believe respect is one of the most basic of human needs right after air, food and water. None of us want to think that we will journey through life without leaving a mark or even being noticed. Indeed, many human conflicts could be avoided by simply showing respect for others.

Street gangs are formed as a result of seeking a sense of belonging. Usually, they band together when the individual members feel disrespected by others in their community. And they are willing to fight and die when they are disrespected by other gangs.

Likewise, consumers experience frustration and anger when corporations and other institutions treat them as mere sources of money instead of actually working to fulfill their needs. Workers feel unappreciated and disrespected when they are paid too little money, or when extra effort goes unnoticed. Civil rights issues, such as gay marriage, are as much about respect and fairness as they are about freedom and personal liberty.

The need for respect even leads nations into war when they feel that others are trying to take advantage of them. For example, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States began as the result of President Truman’s bellicose and belligerent statements that showed contempt for our World War II ally. Truman thought that, since we were the only nation to hold the secret of nuclear weapons, he could use that power to disregard prior agreements and exact new concessions from the Soviets.

In other words, Truman ignored the Soviets’ need for respect.

This is a lesson that should be considered as we enter negotiations with Iran and as we press for new trade concessions from China. It’s what both Democrats and Republicans need to consider if they are to accomplish anything that will benefit our citizens during the next session of Congress. It’s what we all need to keep in mind as we interact with each other. Not just during the holiday season, but year ‘round.

As Aretha Franklin sang, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T…I got to have a little respect.” It’s what everyone needs and deserves.

The End Of Professionalism.

In the early nineties, I started noticing a new attitude from advertising clients. Where previous clients respected our opinions and were willing to pay for our expertise, clients began questioning everything from concepts to production to grammar. It was if our college degrees and years of experience meant nothing.

You see, this new generation of clients had seen plenty of advertising. They had computer programs to check spelling and grammar. Suddenly, they were experts.

Even worse, marketing directors and advertising managers would often hire their nephews and nieces to design print ads, brochures and websites because “they had taken a class in graphic design.” Where we had been held to account with a variety of measurements – awareness studies, focus groups, sales results, etc. – the nephews and nieces were exempt from all that. While these clients admitted the work might not be great, they said it was “good enough.”

Within a few years, large clients such as Frito-Lay were holding contests for amateurs to create their Super Bowl commercials. In reality, this became a new way to generate “buzz” and to cut costs.

The advertising industry isn’t the only one affected. The innundation of media, computers, the Internet, Worldwide Web, YouTube and “apps” have had the same affect on most professions. People with no specialized education or training now believe they are expert writers, artists, designers, photographers, film directors, video editors, football coaches, basketball coaches…you name it. For example, almost everyone is an expert on education…after all, everyone has attended some sort of school.

I realized this phenomenon had reached a point of no return when college football fans bought games which allowed them to play their team’s upcoming schedule on their home computer. They then announced the results as if they were predictors of the upcoming season. When the actual team played actual opponents and lost, these “gamers” were then convinced that the loss was the result of the coach approaching the actual game differently than they had on the computer.

Such idiocy is relatively harmless…until it spills into economics, science, politics and everyday life.

We now have politicians who think they know more about climate change than climatologists. Religious leaders who claim evolution is just a theory. (Of course it is…in the same way gravity is a theory!) Political leaders who claim the way to end poverty is to take away social safety nets. We have created a society of people who believe they’re experts about everything, and if they aren’t, they can just “Google it.”

It’s long past time that we again respect the real experts…the professionals who have spent years learning and mastering a subject. It’s time we stop seeing conspiracies around every corner (that only diminishes the real conspiracies.) We need to learn to trust again. And we need to earn that trust. Until we do, our nation and our civilization will never truly prosper.