If you have nothing to say, say nothing

Silence
When asked why a fifth of Americans were unable to locate their country on a world map, Miss Teen Carolina in the USA, a high school graduate, gave this answer in front of rolling cameras:

‘I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don’t have maps, and I believe that our education like such as South Africa and the Iraq everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future.’

(here is the link to the beauty queen answer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww)

Catastrophic, you agree. The video went viral. But you don’t spend too much time listening to beauty queens. Ok, how about the following sentence?

‘There is certainly no necessity that this increasingly reflexive transmission of cultural traditions be associated with subject-centred reason and future-oriented historical consciousness. To the extent that we become aware of the intersubjective constitution of freedom, the possessive-individualist illusion of autonomy as self-ownership disintegrates.’

This is a Top German philosopher and sociologist Jurgen Habermas in Between Facts and Norms. Both of these are manifestations of the same phenomenon, the twaddle tendency. Here, reams of words are used to disguise intellectual laziness, stupidity, or underdeveloped ideas. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. For the beauty queen, the smokescreen strategy failed dismally, for Harbernas, it might be working (or not, it depends on which you are sitting). The more eloquent the haze of words, the more easily we fall for them.

During the funeral of our beloved formed president Nelson Mandela, news broadcasters had a lot of work to do in covering the event. Some channels had the ability to let unfolding events of the funeral tell the story instead of anchors having to talk through each vacant moment. The silence and the sight of the drummers and defence force marching to the marquee followed by the casket of Madiba is enough for viewers emotions to marinate in. No need to talk over such moments.

The twaddle tendency is also rife in sport. Sports anchors push breathless football players to break down the components of the game, when all they want to say is: ‘We lost the game – its really that simple’ the poor player will stutter some words together, sometimes using English which is not their first language. But the presenter has to fill the airtime somehow, and the best way is by asking the player or coach to blabber something about the game.

The twaddle tendency also happens when a political story breaks out and then political analysts have to comment on the story. More often there has not been enough time to analyse the story, then the poor analyst has to give some intelligent analysis and end up blabbering even if anyone would have given the same fresh analysis.

Politicians also fall prey to this twaddle tendency when they discuss different political systems, capitalism, socialism, neo liberal this or conservative liberalism.

The twaddle tendency is also true in commerce on a smaller scale: the worse-off a company financially, the lot of talk by the CEO in an effort to cover-up the hardship of company. Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric) once said in an interview:

‘You would not believe how difficult it is to be simple and clear. People are afraid that they may be seen as a simpleton. In reality, just the opposite is true.’

In conclusion:

verbal expression is the mirror of the mind. Clear thoughts become clear statements, whereas ambiguous/confused ideas transform into vacant ramblings.

The trouble is that, in many cases, we lack very clear thoughts. The world is complicated, and it takes a great deal of mental effort to understand even a small part of the whole. Until you experience such an epiphany, it is better to take Mark Twain’s advice:

If you have nothing to say, say nothing.’

Simplicity is the zenith of a long, difficult journey, not the starting point.

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