What I Learned from Phil and Bill

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In the following post, I will be quoting racial slurs and references to sexual anatomy.

Phil "Duck Commander" Robertson
Phil “Duck Commander” Robertson

Ok, now that’s settled, let’s take a look at Phil.

Phil is a millionaire whose hit, number one reality TV show “Duck Dynasty” has been making waves in TVland. The family of the backwoods, Louisiana man makes money selling duck calls and praying at dinnertime on TV every week. For those who join the family on A&E every week, Phil, Willie, Jase, and Uncle Si provide a half-hour of good ‘ole, family-style entertainment (scripted in that non-scripted reality way) that even Andy Griffith would appreciate.

This week, Phil has come under a little fire. The “Duck Commander” made comments in a GQ article expressing his opinion about homosexuality, saying:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby

As a result of this comment, Phil has been suspended from the popular A&E show. I won’t be commenting on this particular outcome – it is what it is. Interestingly enough, all this buzz has reminded me of Bill Cosby. 

Doesn’t it remind you of Bill Cosby too?

If not, let me take us on a flashback to 2004. The beloved Dr. Cliff Huxtable was speaking to a black activist group in Chicago when he said the following:

“Let me tell you something, Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it’s cursing and calling each other ‘nigger’ as they’re walking up and down the street. They think they’re hip. They can’t read. They can’t write. They’re laughing and giggling, and they’re going nowhere.”

Calling black youth “dirty laundry” landed the comedian in hot water and even put Al Sharpton on edge. Not terribly unlike Phil, Bill expressed in no uncertain terms his opinions of a controversial issue. While Phil hasn’t said much since his comment, Bill certainly followed up: “You can’t get me to soften my message,” he said. “If I had said [it] nicely, then people wouldn’t have listened.”

Well there you go.

So what have I learned from Phil and Bill? — They freak us out. They freak us out probably because of the scary quality they possess – alarming transparency.

An excellent and highly-encouraged read
An excellent and highly-encouraged read

In their book Transparency: How to create a culture of candor, the leadership-sauvy-and-always-insightful Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, James O’Toole, and Patricia Biederman explain how important transparency is in cultures. All too often, a lack of transparency causes cultures to act in ways that aren’t conducive to cohesive living. As the internet floods our Facebook and Twitter pages with why Mr. Robertson is either a hero or the devil, I’m reminded of how transparency is not only essential for us to look at, but is also missing from most of the blogs and articles being written (not only about Phil, but about most anything it seems). Transparency is one of the tools used to help us be vulnerable, and help us live healthy, cohesive lives together. The Transparency team puts it like this: “The leaders who will thrive and whose organizations will flourish in this era of ubiquitous electronic tattle-tales are the ones who strive to make their organizations as transparent as possible.” (2008, p.17)

Oh touché.

Warren Bennis defines transparency as “capable of being seen through; without guile or concealment; open; frank; candid.” I would add honest. It also requires one other thing: “The key to any good [relationship] is clarity – the ability to see and even be in communication with what’s really going on.” (Bennis, “The New Transparency”) I’d be willing to say that, based on this definition, transparency is apparently no apparent most anywhere. It’s interesting that after Phil and Bill said what they said so transparently, many responded with shady, opaque messages clouded with misinformation and misunderstanding.

None of this, of course, is to qualify or disqualify what Phil or Bill have said. I take no sides here. But what this does hash out is our fear of transparency. Not all attempts at transparency are communicated well; in fact, they often are not. As people point to a problem boldly, they may get distracted by other rabbit trails or emotional remarks. But this should not make us afraid of transparency. It shouldn’t make us afraid of being vulnerable to diverse criticism that may penetrate our own world views. It is quite uncomfortable, I assure you, but such is life.

I like what Dr. Brene Brown, author the heart-wrenching-yet-oh-so-powerful book Daring Greatly has to say about transparency. Well, she calls it vulnerability, but the two are closely related. She says:

“Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.” (Daring Greatly, Ch2)

Well said, Brene. No one could certainly accuse Phil or Bill of not being vulnerable or transparent in their moment of “quotable crisis.” Whether one agrees with them or not, they offered their vulnerability up honestly. I respect that. Me, on the other hand — well, let’s say I’m probably not vulnerable enough when I need to be, transparent when I ought to be, or honest when I have to be. Being honest and sharing a feeling or thought with the world is a scary thing; it freaks us out. This may be why Phil and Bill caused such waves – they were very, very honest with their thoughts. For some, too honest to the point where their trust for Phil and/or Bill was lost. But perhaps their transparency was not all that bad. In truth being vulnerable, while sometimes messy (as in Phil and Bill’s cases), gives us the ability to live with “courage, purpose, and connection.” (Brown, Daring Greatly, Ch.4)

Now that sounds like something worth trying.


2 thoughts on “What I Learned from Phil and Bill

    Nellie Langford said:
    December 20, 2013 at 3:12 am

    Well said. Wow.

    Debbie frazier said:
    December 24, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Amen Kyle! We are to unwilling to be uncomfortable!

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