Let's review the recent national news. The first Latina ever nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, who was raised by a single mother in the Bronx housing projects and worked her way up to the top of the judicial system, is called a racist by a bunch of cranky old white guys. Democrats and Republicans took turns locking themselves out of the New York State Senate. When asked to take a seat at the healthcare reform table, special interest groups responded by drawing a line in the sand. We saw two Americans murdered by domestic terrorists.

What we have here is more than just a failure to communicate. We are drowning in a sea of toxic rhetoric that makes respectful dialogue impossible. You can blame it on anger and fear and economic stress if you want, but this hate filled atmosphere did not happen overnight. It is fueled by insults, slurs and verbal tantrums on radio, TV and the Internet, and it will not disappear overnight either.

Jack Kerouac wrote, "Imagine trying to explain to 1,000 raving Tokyo snake dancers in the street that you are looking for peace but you won't join the parade." When we try and communicate with people who just cannot see things from our point of view, we are in for trouble. Either we are not communicating clearly or the other party is not willing to listen. Finding common ground becomes impossible if we insist on remaining in our own separate camps.

The PR profession gets a bad rap, but the PR pros I am privileged to call my colleagues are sincere, ethical communicators who counsel their clients to practice integrity and to communicate with respect. It is time for us as a profession to step up to the plate and take a leadership role in guiding America away from the precipice and back toward undivided ground. It is time for us to return America to a place where we can voice our own individual opinions in our churches or synagogues or capitols or museums without fear of being shut up or shot down.

We can begin by challenging the media to behave responsibly. We can counsel our clients to engage in positive collaboration that builds healthy communities. And we can challenge ourselves to motivate our extensive social networks toward positive change and to make sure we always communicate responsibly within those networks.

You don't have to join the parade to see that the dancers are having fun. Let them. Maybe that simple act of tolerance is all it takes to make a difference.

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