There's an old story about two gangsters trying to get one of their accomplices to reveal where he'd buried their stolen loot. The first, one of your sensitive, new-wave gangsters, spoke softly of the importance of team play; he cajoled and pleaded to no avail. Finally the older gangster leaned in and said, "Tell us where the money is or I'll kill you." The man immediately told. "Why wouldn't you tell me?" the kinder, gentler gangster asked. "Well," said the man, "you didn't explain it as well as he did."Today, more than ever, we need blunt, frank, and open communications. Look around at the problems of the world, and more than likely you'll find at the root a breakdown somewhere in basic communications. A new film by Mel Gibson threatens to launch a new era of divisiveness. Presidential candidates say one thing one day and back-pedal the next, or they alienate voters because they won't provide direct answers to simple questions. People throughout the world say they love Americans, but hate America. We all subscribe to the old adage, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Yet, when you say something I don't like, I organize a boycott to silence you by trying to put you out of business. We abhor censorship, yet more than 8,000 words are banned from textbooks used in schools and colleges because they've been deemed offensive by one "language police" group or another. As the media worldwide become more professional and more skilled at reporting news, public confidence in the media erodes more rapidly. Influenza. SARS, mad cow disease, criminal prosecutions - and even imprisonment, in some cases - of corporate executives, breakdowns in trust between nations, these stories that demand the essence of candor often fall victim to blame-placing or just pure, old-fashioned spin. As the world grows smaller, many of its people seem to grow further apart. "Trust is like the air we breathe," Warren Buffett said once. "When it's present, nobody really notices. But when it's absent, everybody notices." Trust and understanding is what PR is all about. In this complex world, communications become technologically easier by the minute, but the actual communications process seems to get more difficult. We have lost confidence in the power of open, truthful, candid communications. What that means to you, me, and our organizations is that PR is more relevant now than ever before - not just "good" PR, but "great" PR in every aspect of our lives. The PR profession helps our complex, pluralistic society to reach decisions and to function more effectively by contributing to mutual understanding among groups and institutions. It serves to bring private and public policies into harmony. Truly, the PR profession, like many others, has evolved significantly from its origins. Just as lawyers, sales professionals, scientists, engineers, and other professionals have expanded their basic skill sets to find a place at the decision-making table in corporations and other organizations, PR professionals show their acumen and worth in that setting, as well. Yet, we must never lose sight of the core purpose of what we always have done and what we should do best, no matter what lofty roles and responsibilities we assume. We are first, last, and always communicators. Our job is to cultivate understanding, to build trust, to bring clarity to a complex world. Great PR, like the air we breathe, is transparent. And, like air, the absence of PR becomes immediately noticeable. Nature fills vacuums, a fundamental law of physics. Communication vacuums are filled with innuendo and misunderstanding. Sadly, such confusion creates disharmony and stifles the healthy exchange of ideas, the bedrock of democracy. Who is better equipped than PR professionals to raise awareness of issues, to call attention to the voids and vacuums, and to be strong advocates of the free flow exchange of ideas? That's what we do best, and never has there been a greater opportunity.