Thu | Jul 7, 2022

Kristen Gyles | Beautiful speaking and beautiful minds

Published:Friday | May 13, 2022 | 12:06 AM
Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Many of the world’s most impactful leaders were excellent orators: Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama and the likes. Today, we recite their speeches and we tell stories about the privileges we got in hearing them speak in person. And then there were the more controversial fellows like Leon Trotsky, Adolph Hitler and Jim Jones. What should be obvious is that, whether good, bad or in-between, great communicators, and specifically orators, have little difficulty wrapping the world around their fingers. After all, mouth mek fi chat, right?

Looking back at the lives of these men and the impact they’ve had on the world, we can easily say whatever we want but it doesn’t change the fact that they all had their heyday with at least some wondering if the world had found another messiah. You could do nothing in the world besides give pretty speeches seasoned with charisma and easily garner a massive following for yourself. History shows this clearly, but we fall for it every time. A bit sad, don’t you think?

Some politicians, especially, play into this all the time. After all, which politician would want the fate of Trump when they can have the fate of Obama? Politicians have a need to be liked and do what they need to, in order to remain liked. The secret behind winning the hearts and minds of potential voters is a sort of a holy grail. Don’t get me wrong, communication skills are great skills to have and utilise, but it is quite irksome to see Jamaicans falling into the ‘mouth, teeth and tongue’ cycle. That is, politicians open their mouths, unleashing sweet nothings and flowery speeches, enact harsh and unsympathetic laws with sharp teeth and then Jamaicans lash them with their tongues. And repeat.

DEEPER ISSUE

But why does this keep happening? Is it the ear tickling that we are addicted to or does the issue run deeper?

A few years ago, two political opponents were vying for leadership of a certain constituency in Portland. One made it clear they were all for action and not the ‘beautiful speaking’ that can’t put water in our pipes and pay our supermarket bills. Someone disagreed by suggesting that beautiful speaking is somehow indicative of a beautiful brain. Although I respect and in fact admire both politicians for unrelated reasons, I ever so ardently disagree with the retort.

In Jamaica especially, we are tied down by the misconception that how we communicate is somehow a measure of intelligence. That’s why we vote for the political representatives that reel off the pretty speeches. Subconsciously or not, we have determined that they are more intelligent than their ‘chat bad’ counterparts. We especially have an obsession with the Queen’s English, which is the hallmark of intelligence, it seems.

English is a language. Nothing more, nothing less. It just so happens that some have learnt this language while others haven’t. In the same way that I don’t know French while you might, I may know English while you don’t. In Jamaica, Patois is the common vernacular. Most use the common vernacular while some don’t. It’s not that deep.

But, we make it deep. Ironically, although many of us don’t know English well enough to speak it fluently and error-free, we tease each other over the simplest and most frivolous gaffes. You know, you write an email copied to five persons, saying “Irregardless” of the reason, “the man which works in the position is unable to assist” and one person manages to totally ignore the content of the email, only to respond to everyone with “ * Regardless… *who…”. LOL

FRAME OF MIND

In general, we should adopt a frame of mind that isn’t bothered by ordinary people communicating in the manner that is most comfortable for them. Primarily, because they will express themselves more effectively and be better understood that way, but secondarily, because it’s just downright ridiculous hearing people chop up the English language and sprinkle ugly twangs over it trying to describe a car accident to a news reporter. If what you know is Patois, chat e patwa. You will be much better understood by fellow Jamaicans and the meanie weanies of society will laugh at you less.

Notice my emphasis on other Jamaicans, because introducing the issue of how foreigners will interpret Patois is useless if most non-English-speaking Jamaicans live, work and do business here and have no intention of going anywhere else. While they may struggle with speaking standard English fluently, they understand it quite well. They watch the news every day and understand what is said and they watch foreign movies and can teach the very movie directors about the movie plots. The argument that most of the world speaks English, therefore, we are better off also speaking English, is therefore a bit disingenuous – especially in light of the fact that we have no problem tolerating foreigners who are non-native English speakers, who often mutilate the English language. But this article is not a comparison of languages.

The point is that we have been so brainwashed by the notion that someone being able to reel off a good speech means they are ‘bright’, more intelligent and more knowledgeable than everyone else. We need to snap out of the mentality that connects beautiful speaking with beautiful thinking and big words with big brains. Many promising people with actually bright ideas have been weeded out of opportunities because of people’s biases regarding their intellectual capabilities, simply because of the way they speak.

We communicate to be understood, not to show off. Let’s keep that in mind.

Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Email feedback to kristengyles@gmail.com.