Friday, June 8

Making Milkshakes: Personal And Public Relations

There was plenty of enthusiasm at my daughter's kindergarten class on Wednesday. They graduated.

What makes a kindergarten graduation special is that it's considered their first major step toward education. When they return after the summer, all of them will be in grade school. Their next major transition, of course, will be the fifth grade when they leave grade school and head off to middle or junior high school.

As my daughter was one of the beaming students in this graduating class, there were many memorable moments for me as a proud parent. But those personal moments aren't the ones I want to share today. Something else stuck, and it applies to communication, social media, and relationships.

How making a milkshake can be an effective communication and relationship technique. 

When the principal of the school trotted out with a blender, milk, ice cream and other ingredients, most parents weren't too sure what to think of it. The kids knew what to think. They wanted some.

Except, the lesson she had to share with them wasn't how wonderful milkshakes can be (or maybe it was). The milkshake making is how she captured their attention. She described to them how she never considered herself a good cook, but she was always good at making ice cream.

The ice cream she had was indeed homemade. It was vanilla, made with nothing more than cream, sugar, ice, and a dash of vanilla extract for good measure. She spooned out two generous scoops as she talked, adding them to the milk in her blender.

As she did, you could see every student — from kindergarten to fifth grade — begin to lick their lips in anticipation. They knew it was going to be good. And the room erupted in applause when she asked for volunteers to taste it. Except, before any of the students were picked from the crowd, she stopped.

The milkshake, she said, was pure. But what would happen, she asked, if she added one ingredient that wasn't so pure? Not a lot, she said, holding up a silver bowl with the mystery addition. Just one piece.

The sheer horror on their faces will never be forgotten as the principal dangled a single piece of raw liver over the unspoiled milkshake. Several students even cried out in anguish as she let it fall in with a plunk. Amidst the growing angst and protest, she gave the blender another spin, giving the creamy white ice cream a grayish-pink tint.

Half of the would-be volunteers who wanted to sample the milkshake weren't so interested any more. And just to be sure there were no brave takers, she then dumped half of the contents from the bowl into the blender. With a final whirl, the once white milkshake turned maroon-gray and lumpy with little unground bits of the contaminant floating freely to every corner of the drink.

All relationships start off on a note of natural purity until we alter them. 

Think for a moment about every relationship you might have ever had or will have in your life — acquaintance or friend, classmate or coworker, colleague or partner, reporter or public relations practitioner, employee or employer, contractor or customer, lover or spouse, online connection or offline passerby. It's doesn't matter which ones you think of first. In this story, all of them start out equal. All of them are just like that milkshake.

They start out pure, natural, and delicious. They can remain that way for a long time — filled with nothing but enthusiasm for the next job, next date, next gathering, next opportunity to share, serve, sell, and celebrate. But how long that lasts is up to each pairing.

Relationships are fragile things, like snowmen in spring, I once wrote as part of the prose in a company Christmas card. But even so, I don't think I realized how fragile they were until watching the principal destroy a milkshake at my daughter's school.

It only takes one piece of liver — one white lie, one unreasonable expectation or demand, one broken promise, one unfollow or meaningless connection, one malicious manipulation, one infidelity, one single dose of spam, or one time you need need to be right at all costs — to give it that uncharacteristically grayish-pink tint. And even while most of relationships are anything but pure white over time (because of one party or the other; one mistake or another), one might wonder just how murky someone can make a milkshake before it becomes undrinkable. Most of the time, it seems, people color them up pretty good because we're all human.

Still, the truth is that we don't have to carry around muddied, chunky milkshakes. Since every relationship starts out with the same set of pure ingredients, someone has to be the first to toss in a little piece of liver (or maybe the whole bowl). And while there are plenty of people in the world who are really good at doing it first that doesn't mean we have to beat them to the bullshit finish.

If you want to really change the way you think, work, and live, take a moment to assess all the milkshakes that you have in your life. Are they all white? And if they are not white, how much of the liver did you intentionally or unintentionally dump into them?

Chances are that some of them need to be poured out (those destructive forces in your life), some of them need to be drunk up so you can start over (the ones you messed up all on your own), and a tiny few of them need to be preserved (those lucky few or any that have started new). And then, assuming you are lucky enough to minimize the sludge after the cleanup, maybe you can carry the wisdom in the lesson for the rest of your life — you don't have to ruin your milkshakes. And you don't have to keep the ones that someone else ruins either.
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