All things to all people
When I first thought about that question about an hour ago my immediate answer was I'll bet we all do it. But the more I thought about it, I wasn't so sure. I can only speak for myself, and I know I do it.
What made me think of it in the first place were the speeches made in Selma, Ala., over the weekend by Barack Obama and H-Rod.
I'm a student of language. I love the written and spoken word, and I'm just geek enough to study delivery. And I what I noticed with the two of them is that while in Selma they both developed Southern drawls. They both spoke with the sing-songy cadence of a Southern preacher, and they both used southern (or ethnic, depending on who you ask) colloquialisms.
Now, don't get me wrong. Without getting into their politics, I'm not mad at either of them. I'm sure a GOP candidate in a similar position would have made a few adjustments in how he delivered his speech vs. how he might do it to a crowd in Salt Lake City or something.
But I was amused. I was even more amused this afternoon when I was driving to my office, bouncing between radio talk shows, and I came across one where the host scoffed at Obama and Clinton for altering their speech so that they could try to sound southern and black, and thus curry more favor with black voters. The host didn't use those words, but that's what he implied.
Again, I sort of disagree with him. I do think both candidates tailored their deliveries to their audiences. But I don't think it was a race thing. I believe, regardless of party affiliation, any savvy candidate is going to adjust in the same way. It's one of those things that gives politicians labels like "phony." But it is a reality: they all do it, at least the ones who win or come close to winning.
Either way the talk host's argument struck home 'cause I realize I've done the same plenty of times.
I've said before I was raised in a Cosby-esque household - not wealthy, just extremely straight laced and "by the book." And as I grew up I found myself surrounded by more people who were nothing like me than by people with whom I could compare notes. It was no one's fault. It was just where I lived. So I learned to get along. When I got old enough - like in high school - I found myself gravitating to areas of my city where I knew I'd find more kids who looked like me. And I found another culture and another take on life. I'll stop here. I could ramble on about this for pages on end.
At any rate, I have caught myself when visiting the old barbershop in the 'hood during visits back home adjusting my speech to fit the room. I've let my grammar slip. I've used colloquialisms. I even shake hands differently to reflect my hipper side. When interviewing some executive in their 30th floor office suite, sipping tea from fine China and admiring their expensive art on the wall, I slip into another vibe in which I talk on his terms as eloquently as anyone he knows from the country club. When I'm back home and I drive out to the deep, deep countryside to do some swamp canoeing, I've added a little twang to my voice, when making small talk with the guy who manages the boat dock. Not on purpose. It's subconscious. But I realize later that I've done it. And I can only explain by saying I guess I want folks to feel comfortable.
That may sound condescending. But I know I'm not the only non-politician who has done this.
Or am I?
Labels: pleasing everyone