My Antidote Was My Poison
By Brad Scott | March 29, 2013
There is good news though. After consuming ourselves in the fire of our own pain, we might be able to learn something about ourselves. At the very least, we might learn how to handle similar situations in the future. Hopefully, we might learn that our remedy could actually be poison.
A Case in Point
Working for USAID in Moscow in 2005 as the Public Outreach and Communications Officer, I had a failure to communicate. While minding my own business at my office job in the U.S. Embassy, a correspondent from The Moscow Times called me – seemingly, to try and understand the USAID approach to a particular topic. The topic was family planning, and the article was on USAID’s support for family-planning programs in Russia. I thought, “Okay, I worked for the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program for several years in the early 90’s, so this should be a breeze for me.” As it turns out, it wasn’t.
One of the questions that the polite correspondent asked was what I’d say to someone who claimed that condoms were 100% effective. The question was poison! Before I responded, the memories of awkward birds-and-bees talks with my daughters came flying back. I could just imagine what the young folks would think upon reading his article, especially if I couldn’t answer the question appropriately. While I’m not opposed to sex education, I could only wonder how many parents would have to squirm in their own anguish while talking with their children about the birds and the bees after reading my response. The answer had to sound intelligent and informative while reflecting the views of the U.S. government. Mostly, the answer had to be right, so I had to pick my “antidote” appropriately.
My response? I said, “If anyone tells you that something is 100 percent effective, you need to verify the claim. You need to take it [the claim] with a grain of salt.” I was satisfied with that answer. I had dodged the bullet, right? Wrong!
The next day, the Deputy Director of USAID came into the office screaming. “Who in the @*&$ said that?” she asked, pointing to an article in The Moscow Times. I only had a faint idea about what she was talking – and the idea was overcome with knowledge quickly. I looked in her hand and saw the name of the correspondent at the top of an article – the one my boss was pointing to. My heart dropped, and a cold, empty feeling dropped over me like ice water on a warm day. Nevertheless, I looked at the article and read it wondering what it was that I had screwed up on. Then I got to it. The horror! And while public relations with the Russian government were suffering, I’m sure the article made someone happy – just not the U.S. government. I could just imagine the Russian government’s delight at the article.
The Moscow Times correspondent wrote, “A U.S. government official said that condoms must be applied with a grain of salt.”
The correct answer, as I found out, would have incorporated the ABC approach. That approach is Abstinence, Be Faithful, and, if all else fails, use Condoms. My lesson learned was that I shouldn’t be in public relations.
We should all know our limitations. Take the Myers Briggs test and do the StrengthsFinders challenge to find out who you are. I found out that Public Relations wasn’t for me. I just wish I knew then, what I know now, and what I know now is that my antidote might actually be my poison (a grain of salt).