The use of clichés is a mark of the assumption of indifference.
All writing is a war against cliché, says British novelist Martin Amis. If such a war is waged there will be fewer words in the world, but they will be intelligible. And that war should be confined not only to writing – it should include speech, too, especially the speech of top leaders.
The intellectual, emotional and spiritual bankruptcy of world leaders evident at times of big scams and violent upheavals warrants a fight. Their reactions are always off the mark, not corresponding to the event at all. They are full of clichés and uninspiring.
Why are our leaders’ speeches cliché-ridden? Why is that most of the times they seem to be saying something but are actually saying nothing? Why is it that their concern about poverty or terrorism doesn’t ring true?
The reason, it seems, is that their words don’t emerge from their feelings. Like thinking, feeling is also a form of reflection. And any reflection needs some amount of solitude. When words are readily available, our leaders don’t feel the need for solitude out of which to say something original. Moreover, leaders cannot disentangle themselves from the cacophony of their immediate surroundings and enter a space from where they can see the enormousness of an issue. Still, that is no justification for them to spout clichés.
Clichés dull the minds of the speakers as well as of the listeners, they keep our spirits low, they nip the creative wellspring of life in the bud.
After the recent killings of protesting Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt which is under the control of Army, US President Barak Obama said: "This morning, we notified the Egyptian government that we are cancelling our bi-annual joint military exercise which was scheduled for next month."
Apparently, there is no cliché in the President’s speech at the verbal level. At a subtler level the response is mechanical, devoid of the urgency of passion.
The blood of the protesters was spilling in the active present and the President was talking about a future military exercise. An irony here is that the President placed a high premium on military exercise when the very military of another country was cracking down on civilians. Predictably, his speech made no impact on the Egyptian Army and the killing went on even after the warning.
Instead of saying so many words, the President could have as well told the Egyptian Army "Thou shall not kill”. The media would have seized those words and taken them to Biblical heights.
During his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “There can be no place for narrow and sectarian ideologies in a modern, progressive and secular country. Such ideologies divide out society and weaken our democracy. We should prevent them from growing.”
Lacklustre words – that’s all one can say, with due respect.
Another telling example can be found in persistent protests in Parliament over some scam or the other. Pushed to the corner by the Opposition, how many times have we heard a Minister telling Parliament that a “probe has been ordered and the law will take its own course” and that ‘the guilty will be brought to book’.
Apart from the leaders’ lack of feeling and thoughtfulness, there’s another cause, an equally significant cause for the prevalence of clichés – our inability to face facts.
What would have happened if the Prime Minster or the Finance Minister told us, “Don’t bother about secularism or scams. Put your house in order first”? What would have happened if Mr. Obama had told the world, “Egypt is beyond me”.
It’s not hard to guess our reactions. And reactions -- because they are conditioned responses – can’t be anything other than emotional clichés. So how does one eradicate clichés? Maybe we have to think twice before we say something, for our first thoughts needn’t be our best thoughts.