Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Elder Maxwell on Public Relations

If Hugh Nibley's views on Public Relations are extreme and unsympathetic, we might expect a more sympathetic treatment from Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Elder Maxwell, after all, had begun his career in higher education as assistant director of public relations at the University of Utah in 1956, the same year that Nibley published "Victoriosa Loquacitas." (Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life (2002), 245.) In 1964 he became the Vice President for planning and public affairs for the University of Utah. For a decade and a half he was involved in and ultimately in charge of public relations for the University of Utah. Here is someone who knew public relations from the inside. We might expect a more understanding view of the profession.

At the end of his time in public relations, Elder Maxwell observed:
In a sense, God cares little for cosmetic “public relations” (A Time to Choose [1972], 23).
On the other hand, he admitted that
Public relations points can be made for the kingdom in varied circumstances (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward [1977], ).
Such points, however, were of lesser value:
God's martyrs are not permitted great concern over public relations, for truth is a relentless taskmaster. (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience [1980], 16).
For Elder Maxwell truth was more important than public relations. If the choice was between following the gospel and public relations, he had no doubt which was to take precedence:
As the disciple enriches his relationship with the Lord, he is apt to have periodic "public relations" problems with others, being misrepresented and misunderstood. He or she will have to "take it" at times. ("Meek and Lowly")

 He warned that disciples should not take "a fretful, anxious public relations posture" (Meek and Lowly [1987], 108.)
Neglect of vital data, use of partial truths, plus "looking beyond the mark," can cruelly combine to blunt perspective and create, as it were, public relations problems. (Meek and Lowly [1987], 110.)
Elder Maxwell noted that it was when unmeek individuals neglected what they should have been paying attention to, looked beyond the mark and used partial truths that they created public relations problems. Nibley would have pointed out that it was entirely the doings of public relations types that caused the problems in the first place.

Elder Maxwell also noticed other tendencies of public relations. He referred to one passage in the Sermon on the Mount as a "stern passage—it was scarcely a soothing "public relations" pronouncement" (We Talk of Christ, We Rejoice in Christ [1984], 101.) Public relations pronouncements are supposed to be soothing rather than stern.

So, even though coming from an insider, Elder Maxwell's references to public relations, though softer than Hugh Nibley's are of the same tenor. Real disciples of Jesus will have public relations problems. God is not particularly interested in our public relations but in whether or not we are doing his will. Public relations is more interested in partial truths, in neglecting the fuller story. Truth is more important than public relations. As Nibley would have pointed out, the harshest critiques are no more telling than the admissions from the inside.

Still, there might be other ways at looking at the profession.

[To be continued]