Every summer throughout college, I had the opportunity to work as a counselor at a Boy Scout summer camp in the Oregon coast range. It was a fantastic gig for me. I got to spend time in the woods, build campfires, hike to my heart's content, and invest time teaching outdoors skills to youth.
It was also a hard job where I worked long hours for little pay. That said, working there has always been one of my fondest memories and the camp still holds a special place in my heart.[ref]I get the chance to volunteer up there every year and still, even 10 years after my last summer on staff, go back time and again to visit.[/ref]
The last summer, though, things were a bit rough.
The Boy Scouts' popularity grows and diminishes on a fairly regular basis. When it starts to wane, the organization starts making cuts to save on budget. Our council (regional body) maintained four overnight resident camps in the area: Mine, one at the beach, a horse camp on the other side of the mountains, and another leased facility closer to the center of the state. When push came to shove, we knew that two of the camps would stay open: One had the beach, the other had horses.
But the last two camps always seemed to compete for "who is more relevant?"
Making Our Case
We spent the summer doubling down on program. Our high adventure course was second to none, we offered lifeguard courses at the lake, expanded our tomahawk throwing range. I even added an art class and a course on the history of space exploration to the curriculum. We wanted to do everything possible to differentiate ourselves and keep the proverbial doors open.
Then we got news that the other camp started having plumbing issues.
And by pluming issues I mean they had a river a of crap running down a trail through the center of camp.
It would have been incredibly easy for us to jump all over that and make it central to the "which camp stays open" issue. Admit it, between a small camp in the coast range and a larger one with a river of excrement below the dining hall, where would you rather stay.
But we didn't do that.
I'd like to say it was because we universally had more class than that. Alas, it was our boss[ref]This particular supervisor will go down in history as, hands down, the best human being I have ever worked with.[/ref] who kept us all on the right path:
If "at least we don't have a river of poo" is the best thing we can say about our camp, none of us are doing our jobs.
It's often easier to point out the flaws in your competition than it is to highlight your own selling points.
The "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" commercials of yesterday are funny because of their wit. However they spend as much or more time on the frustrations of a PC as they do the values of a Mac.
Car advertisements still spend a fair amount of time promoting the wide array of awards given to various models and brands. At the same time, commercials are more often delving into "unlike so-and-so" territory.
Political campaigns are the worst of all.
The 2016 presidential election is currently neck-and-neck between the two leading candidates; either one is ahead by 1-3 points, depending on which poll you read. How popular they are isn't an issue - the issue is how they are treating their competition.
Both campaigns have invested millions of dollars tearing the other down. Between their name calling, scandal highlights, and outright lies about one another these candidates have done more to tarnish one another's reputation than they have to build their own.
Out of the roughly 46% of Americans voting in favor of either candidate,[ref]The polls are in a dead 46-46 heat at the moment, with the remaining few percent either undecided or in a third party camp.[/ref] many aren't voting that way because they thing it's the best choice for America. They're voting that way because they're convinced voting the other way is the worst choice for America.
Ultimately, only one candidate will win.
Instead of fighting a campaign to promote herself as the right person for the job, Hillary Clinton has spent equal time trying to convince America that a Donald Trump presidency will spell the end of America. Likewise, Donald Trump has spent as much time, energy, and money putting his name forward for president as he has convincing his supporters a Clinton presidency means sure disaster.
Whomever wins, they will inherit a divided America. An America where some thing they're the best choice, where some think they're not the worst choice, and where almost half of the country has been beaten over the head for 15 months with the message that any action they take will mean the end of life in America as we know it.
Both major candidates' campaign has boiled down to, "well at least I don't ..."
As my boss once said, if that's your best selling point, you're not doing your job.