Carreen Winters
Carreen Winters

ICYMI, Whoopi Goldberg got herself into some hot water this week with insensitive remarks and dismissal of the Holocaust as an issue of racism. Whenever someone asks that question of ‘what went wrong?’, it gets me thinking. What are the lessons learned for those of us who are professional communicators?

Here’s my take on the three most important things Whoopi Goldberg reminded us this week:

1. Words matter. Language is at the very heart of inclusion, and we choose whether to use our words as a weapon, or a welcome mat. We can encourage debate and discussion without dismissing and dividing others, even if we don’t see as much of it in the media as we’d like to. As communicators, we have a responsibility to use language in an inclusive way.

2. No one has the right to dismiss the experience of others. We are all shaped by our own experiences, and view situations with that lens. As a black woman who has been on this planet for a number of decades, it’s safe to presume that she’s experienced discrimination and racism much of her life. Does experiencing discrimination ourselves give us the right to dismiss someone else’s experience as “less than” or worse, “not really racism?” The answer here is a clear and resounding NO.

3. Information and public opinion move very fast. Even faster than we think. Faster than the window between taping a late-night segment in the afternoon and it airing that night. If you are in the midst of a controversy, it is pretty important to get the message right, and deliver the same message consistently. And I can’t help but wonder, who prepped Whoopi for that interview?

Of course, we should all remind ourselves that "The View" is a program specifically designed to invite debate; this isn’t the first time we’ve seen controversy originating from the format, and it won’t be the last. And few of us are in a position to have our words broadcast around the world in real time. But the lessons our grandmothers taught us about thinking before we speak, and if we can’t say something nice it may be better say nothing at all… well, there is wisdom in them.

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Carreen Winters is EVP, corporate reputation and chief strategy officer at MWW.