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“You don’t understand Gandhi,” Desai responded. “You see, what he thinks is what he feels. What he feels is what he says. What he says is what he does. What Gandhi feels, what he thinks, what he says, and what he does are all the same. He does not need notes.” Mahadev Desai, Gandhi’s assistant.

I’ve mentioned before my publicly stated disdain for the speech patterns which pepper the English language, these days. Not local dialects, odd as they are. No, for me it’s the careless way people follow others’ linguistic idiosyncrasies. Last time I mentioned them it was because of standards. This time it’s because people do this to avoid telling the truth. Not a factual truth – politicians use it to do that, as do lawyers – but their truth.

People use these things to avoid telling us how they truly feel because they don’t want to be judged. This is partly because they are not confident about their ability to properly and reasonably express an opinion that is not the current fashion; and also in the quite reasonable belief that the person they are speaking to wouldn’t even listen if they could express themselves well.

You hear these pauses between question and response. You hear them when the interviewee says, “I mean” before they’ve said anything that needs re-interpretation. You hear it when they say, “like”, “sort of” and other gap words which are interspersed between thoughts because other thoughts are emerging which they have to think about while they’re still thinking about the one they are expressing now.

They are talking too fast, and worry that they may betray themselves in some way.

Gandhi didn’t do that. Gandhi knew what he had to say, and that what he had to say was something he truly believed. There was no deception, no two-facedness about him.

Oh that we allowed other people to be like that, by shutting up and letting them talk. If they have a truly held belief, let’s hear it. If it does not comply with current trends as decided by the media, let’s hear why. You can’t reasonably argue with an opinion you haven’t understood – all you can do is impose yours on someone else. In which case they have as much right to dismiss yours in the same way you just dismissed theirs.

I was recently at a meeting where one party spoke of a technique he used in training courses, and anyone there would have seen me grimace as he did so. I thought that the method used wasn’t in keeping with the tenor of the training that the rest of us were trying to promote. But even as I grimaced I thought to myself, “He said two words – you ‘know’ what that means, but you don’t KNOW what that means. So you can’t challenge its efficacy in ‘our’ programme until then. So shut up.”

I shut up. And didn’t make myself look a fool, as may have happened if I’d challenged him only to discover that what I thought I knew was in fact wrong.

Give other people the same respect, and give yourself the same chance NOT to look stupid.

Argue

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