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     Volume 2 Issue 117 | May 3, 2009|


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Debater’s Diary

Saying what you do not mean

Ridwan Karim

Business students are taught that human beings have been programmed to have an overpowering desire to appear magnanimous, and to obtain the esteem and praise of other men. But what happens when the urge to appear broad-minded is counteracted by an equally overwhelming urge to protect your narrow self-interests? Human beings will go to great lengths to look out for their own benefits (business students themselves being the living examples!).

But perhaps these two natural tendencies of human beings can live side by side. Perhaps you can have your cake and eat it too. Perhaps we all have a thing or two to learn from the US President Mr. Barack Obama.

Obama was recently faced with a dilemma over what to do regarding the AIG Bonus Scandal a direct result of a legal loophole in Obama's own stimulus bill. Fingers were being pointed in all directions, and Obama had to act fast. And in a brilliant move, he told the crowd at a town hall appearance, 'I will take responsibility (for this fiasco).' Of course, when you say 'blame me,' you are actually making it clear that you are not the one to be blamed. With his eagerness to apologize beforehand, Obama knew he could take all the fight out of his detractors and count on a forgiving attitude on part of the public a technique frequently employed by him. And the results could not have been better. A new Democratic poll shows that nearly 30% of the voters blame Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner regarding this particular scandal, while only 1 out of 10 blames President Obama. This, in spite of reports surfacing that Obama knew about the bonuses before they were paid out, and that the loophole in the bill was added after pressure from his own Treasury Department.

The lesson is simple: if you can swallow your pride and concede that you are wrong, or that your opponents are right, you are not really conceding much.

A famous example of how the literary interpretation of words may have nothing to do with what is actually being said is the 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen' speech by Mark Anthony in the Shakespearean tragedy 'Julius Caesar.' Anthony was ordered to deliver the speech right after the assassination of Julius Caesar by Brutus, the man who planned and executed the murder. Anthony was Caesar's friend and comrade, and naturally he did not want to justify the assassination. At the same time, he was not in a position to openly antagonize Brutus. Thus Anthony was forced to employ his considerable oratorial skills. In a speech where he repeatedly stated 'Brutus is an honourable man,' and where he not once resorted to any direct attempt to besmirch the name of Brutus, he was nonetheless able to reveal the repugnance and dishonourable nature of Caesar's assassin. By using guarded and discrete language to present his evidence that contradicted the claims made by Brutus, he was able to reverse the opinion held by the assembled crowd.

History is chockfull of examples of how astute orators play with words in order to drive their points home through subtle means.

It seems that David Beckham, the last person you would suspect to be an astute orator, has also mastered this delicate skill! When he recently said that he has a lot of respect for L.A. Galaxy, I am sure most of you will agree he actually meant to say that L.A. Galaxy has way too much respect for him, and he would much rather play for AC Milan.

Our own politicians seem to have mastered a rather garbled version of this art of saying one thing and meaning another. When they say they are going to apprehend criminals 'regardless of their political affiliations,' you and I both know what to expect. And nothing sounds more ominous than the words 'free and fair investigation!' There are only so many times that you can get away by using cheap rhetoric.

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