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‘The Way it is Said’


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By Sunil G. Wijesinha

There is a tendency for politicians to often say the wrong thing, or maybe say the right thing in a wrong way. Some politicians have come in for a lot of flak recently because of certain public statements they have made. I recall a poem we learnt in school titled ‘The Way it is Said’ and have been guided by this thinking ever since in life in my offices, factories and most importantly at home. The poem is self-explanatory, and goes like this:

The Sultan awoke with a stifled scream,

His nerves were shocked by a fearful dream,

An omen of terrible import and doubt,

His teeth all in one moment fell out,

His wise men assembled at break of day,

And stood at the throne in solemn array,

And when the terrible tale was told,

Each felt a shudder – his blood ran cold,

And all stood silent in fear and dread,

And wondered what was best to be said,

At length a soothsayer wrinkled and grey,

Cried “Pardon my Lord, what I have to say”,

“‘Tis an omen of sorrow sent from on high,

Thou shalt see all thy kindred die”,

Wrath was the sultan; he gnashed his teeth,

And his very words seem to hiss and seethe,

As he ordered the wise man bound with chains,

And gave him a hundred stripes for his pains,

The wise men shook as the Sultan’s eye,

Swept ‘round to see who next would try,

One of them stepping before the throne,

Exclaimed in a loud and joyous tone,

“Rejoice O Head of a Happy State,

Rejoice O Heir of a glorious fate,

For this is the favour thou shalt win,

O sultan to outlive all thy kin”,

Pleased was the sultan and called a slave,

And a hundred crowns to the wise man gave,

But the courtiers nodded with grave sly winks,

And each one whispers what he thinks,

“Well can the sultan reward and blame;

Didn’t both the wise men foretell the same?”

Quoth the crafty old vizier shaking his head,

“So much may depend on the way a thing’s said”

I learnt in early life to say things the right way mainly from my uncle who was much more diplomatic than my father was. I learnt wonderful lessons from Dr. W. Dahanayaka when he was the Minister of Co-operative Development. One lesson was when he assumed duties as the Minister and held a media conference. I was involved in a serious project to restructure the co-operative retail sector which was unable to fit into the new open economy at the time. The Minister told the media that he would give all the encouragement to the co-operative sector and would not pursue any restructuring. 

The Secretary to the Ministry the well-known D.D.D. Pieris and I decided to meet the Minister the next day and explain our restructure process and try and gain his support for it. We explained our work in great detail and highlighted our achievements, after which the Minister gave us a quizzical look and asked “so what is the problem?”. “Sir yesterday you said no restructuring, so we need to know what we do now” was our response. By all means please continue the restructuring. 

Being an experienced politician he explained that if he said he will pursue restructuring he could imagine what the headline of the newspapers would be. Naming a popular sinhala paper he said the headline would say ‘Samupakara prathisanskaranay vey, daahak dotta’, meaning co-operatives to be restructured, a thousand employees to lose their jobs. I also recall that at many Parliamentary Consultative Meetings when I explain what we were doing in a more technical manner, he would rephrase my statements saying the same thing but differently and immensely pleasing both Government and opposition members.

It’s all about “the way it is said”.

 


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