Senator Webb, Tact and Timing Are Not Your Strong Suits

CuriousLurker7/24/2010 8:29:55 am PDT

Great analysis, and you’re not being overly sensitive.

Politicians are all about words, so I enjoy seeing people pay attention to & analyze what they’re really saying. It’s usually quite revealing, especially when what is said involves written words.

Why? Because they had time to sit down and think about it. Sure, they also plan their speeches and even rehearse and try to anticipate answers to possible questions from the media, but sitting down and writing something oneself is still different. No matter how hard anyone tries to be reasonable and objective, it’s simply not possible—we are subjective creatures, we can’t help it. That’s when the interesting bits come out.

Two things in my life brought this home to me in a way that I never forgot:

1.) During an English Comp 101 class in college decades ago, the instructor was giving examples of how misleading advertising can be. “Four out of five doctors choose Trident!” Which doctors? Does that include doctors who won stock in their parent company? “Certs with retsyn!” WTF is retsyn? The commercials never said. Yeah, I know it is now, but back in the day we didn’t have the web at our fingertips 24/7, so finding info was a more arduous task. She gave lots of other examples, but that’s the one that stuck with me.

2.) Years ago I was reading a book by Idries Shah, who was a master at translating & adapting traditional Sufi “teaching stories” for modern Western audiences. Many of the stories are designed to let you make assumptions and then, at the end, show you how faulty those assumptions were. He said he was giving a talk in an auditorium one day and told the crowd, “Anyone who’s willing to do whatever I ask them to do can stay. The rest of you should leave.” When the latter had cleared out, he turned to those who remained and it went something like this:

Shah: So you’re willing to do whatever I ask, are you?

Audience: [Signals assent.]

Shah: How many of you speak Chinese?

Audience: [Silence, no hands raised…]

Shah: Then why did you agree to do whatever I ask?? What if I asked you to speak Chinese? You had no way of knowing in advance what I would ask, so why did you blindly agreed to something before you even knew if you were capable of doing it?

Anyway, sorry for going on and on—I just wanted to illustrate why I think it’s really important that we check our assumptions at the door and pay more attention to what people are actually saying (or asking), and what the implications might be. This is doubly true when listening to politicians who, as we’re all aware, aren’t exactly known for being clear & upfront. Again, great job—thanks!