Maswood Alam Khan
Most of our politicians are excellent speakers in a public gathering. They know how to embellish their public speeches with fiery words and phrases, passionate tones and tenors in order to excite people to join a movement against social ills or against a repressive regime or during a national calamity. They guide us in times of our needs and perils. We vote for them to represent us, to speak on our behalf and to fight for our welfare.
The tragedy is many of our politicians have a tendency to use the same fervid style of their public speeches everywhere – no matter it is a condolence meeting, a non-political seminar, an international conference or for that matter an assembly of scientific scholars. Some of them are so used to public orations that they often forget that it is not a public meeting when they are delivering a lecture in the parliament or in a seminar on policy guidelines. They remain as emotive as they were in a public meeting, proving themselves miserably incapable of restraining their fluid political passions. When such politicians become important government functionaries they at times fail to restrain their garrulous tendency in their speeches and utterances. Thus, they become well-known for making faux pas, causing a great credibility gap between the government and the governed. And our journalists too sniff around for faux pas a politician makes in his or her speech to feed the readers on a delicious topic to gossip about.
But, there are of course politicians in our country who are by nature circumspect and invariably less talkative, even though some of them are not so highly educated in terms of academic qualifications. They are diplomatic when they converse across a conference table and they are great orators when they have to address a mammoth public meeting. They are stoic like philosophers. They know what they have to say and where. They know how to negotiate with foreign dignitaries to safeguard national interests. They also know how to needle their opponents into losing in a debate. They think profusely and talk sparingly. They are known as visionary statesmen, veteran parliamentarians, smart politicians and efficient administrators. The bitter truth is the number of such consummate politicians is diminishing very fast in Bangladesh.
We, the Bangladeshis, are all basically hyperemotional. We enjoy gossiping, mostly needlessly. We become especially great talkers over telephone when we don’t have to pay from our own pockets for a lengthy telephonic conversation. We lecture endlessly thinking the audience is raptly listening to our words when in fact the audience, being fed up, is leaving the venue of our lecture.
Joblessness, moral laxity in job environments, penchant for poking fun at the upper class, tendency to live on someone else’s earnings, ecstasy in rumour mongering, unhealthy enthusiasm in faultfinding and, most importantly, lack of proper schooling – both political and academic – and absence of parental grooming are mainly the reasons why we talk so breathlessly in our voracious conversations and lectures, not knowing how the listeners are judging our constant ramblings.
There was a junior colleague, a breathless talker, in Agrani Bank where I used to work many years back. I had felt like stuffing cotton balls in my ears when he would start talking. One could see the arteries and veins on his frontal throat swollen when he would talk frenetically. His narrations, blended with assorted stories, were so lengthy and irrelevant that I often had missed the pathway back to the starting point of the litany of his tales. The young, lanky and dark-skinned guy was in fact a running commentator on what was happening around and especially on private affairs of almost all the bank employees, males and females. If by chance you had disclosed to the motor-mouth a private secret or a slander on anybody you heard about, you had it! You had to face the music! He would surely circulate your words, spiced with his own version of smears, to the whole community of your bank colleagues within a few minutes.
Rare to find is a ratchet-mouth who is cautious while addressing a meeting or conversing with a person or facing an interview for a job or a promotion. A real chatterbox is less likely to gain credibility in his private and public life and is prone to commit errors. Compared to an avid talker, a silent observer, on the other hand, has much more advantages in his professional career. A silent observer has a wider space and time to reflect on problems and their solutions and a breathless talker’s mind is jam-packed with streams of irrelevant and unsolvable anxieties.
There are some areas where the professionals have but to be reserved to succeed in their jobs. Their job demands silence. If you are an angler you know when it is the right time to pull your fishing rod. Angling is a game that calls into play all your powers of concentration. A successful angler silently focuses his attention absolutely to the bobber, the fish-bite indicator. A dexterous angler also in his everyday life is more an observer than an exhibitor. Likewise, a less talkative person blessed with power of observation also succeeds in the capital markets. The way an ace angler focuses his attention on the dipping and upping of the bobber to decide the right moment of hooking up a fish, an skilled trader also concentrates his attention on the upward ripping and downward tanking of the market behaviour to decide the exact second when he has to cash in or cash out his investments in a stock or in a derivative, selling or buying long or short.
Silence, however, is not always golden – at times it is yellow too! There are occasions when silence – the control of one’s tongue – pays rich dividends. Silence is certainly “golden” when compared to those verbose speeches carrying no real messages or signifying no morality. “Silence is golden” when one is restrained and careful in his conversation or in the delivery of a speech. There are times when one can say more by being silent. But, to remain silent at times when one should speak up is to be guilty of cowardice. There are times when it is our obligation to speak up and tell the truth. At a crucial time when those who should speak out and warn of dangers remain silent because they are afraid of retaliation or fear that they might hurt someone’s feelings, it is a silence far from being golden, it is just plain yellow.
On reading my recent article on the sad demise of Humayun Faridi, my facebook friend Anondo Khaled, commented: “Faridi was probably in his best form as a stage actor of Bangladesh during the seventies and eighties. Many people in the theatre circle believe he first used the “pause” in interlocutions – a technique to create the effective ‘Golden Silence’ between dialogues. This ‘Golden Silence’ technique and many other instant improvisations that Faridi used in his stage performances influenced not only the younger-generation actors in Bangladesh but also greatly educated many stage actors in the state of West Bengal in India. Though it may sound a little egoistic, the truth is: a Faridi comes once in every three hundred years!”
People who do not talk much, but listen to other people, probably have longer experience, deeper knowledge and better judgment. It is better not to talk than to talk foolish. There should be a time to speak and a time to be silent. We should know when to say something and when to say nothing. Measured speech is silver, essential silence is golden and silence — when speech is direly needed – is yellow. But, a total silence is alarmingly red when someone doesn’t talk at all. Some people who say little or nothing are more dangerous than people who frankly speak a lot.
We, the Bangladeshis, should try to start speaking a little less and thinking a little more. If we can’t shun at all our long-ingrained habit of breathless speaking, why not we at least take a long pause in between our sentences – like those ‘golden silences’ Humayun Faridi used in his dialogues!
– From Maryland, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org