Climbing out of a sinkhole

In politics or wherever, just one inappropriate remark is all it takes to land you in a disapprobation sinkhole. In my many years in politics, I have seen promising political talents disappearing into oblivion early in the game, all because of thoughtless prattle.

The thing about sinkholes is that you may step into one but realize what it is only when it begins to swallow you. That’s one scenario. Another probability is that you are aware that given the social or political milieu you move in, there’s a chance you could wander into a sinkhole but you tell yourself, “What the heck, I can handle sinkholes,” and go on and tempt your fate. Then the problem: how to climb out of the sinkhole.


Sen. Tito Sotto touched off a storm of vilification for his off-color remark framing the solo parenthood of Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo as a consequence of her having been “na-ano” (slang for taken advantage of immodestly). Boy, how he was ripped to the last strand of his moustache in social media!

What should Senator Sotto do to climb out of the sinkhole to which his “na-ano” blather consigned him?  Spin doctors, those coffee shop guys who have solutions to every PR problem, think his problem is the simplest PR mishap in which to do damage control. Their idea? Sotto should just sit tight and not do or say anything; his verbal misadventure is of no earthshaking significance, and it will vanish into nothingness in no time at all.


To me this is the mindset of PR hao siaos, those too lazy to think or haven’t enough gray matter to generate concepts in the first place. Doing nothing to solve a problem is a contradiction in terms. You solve a problem by taking action, applying measures produced by creative processes, and NOT by sitting on your fat unmentionable.

Purely for academic discussion and not meaning to meddle into Senator Sotto’s “na-ano” sinkhole, I’d like to offer some guideposts (PR gurus call them “strategies,” I simply call them “pointers”) on ways to deflect verbal missiles that one attracts for a stupid mistake or shortcoming.

Pointer No. 1: Verbal assaults are not eternal words written in stone. They can be reconfigured to blunt their sting or even reverse their impact from negative to positive. The operative technique required here is called “doublespeak.”  Let’s say a rival for a coveted executive position up for grabs calls the office system you caused to be installed a “failure.”  Respond brilliantly before your rival’s insidious comment consigns you into a sinkhole and being branded a bungling fool. Declare: “My good colleague has a cock-eyed view of an earnest effort. No, the system is not a ‘failure,’ it’s ‘unfinished success.’”  Your proffered new label for the system implies that the system will work in due time, or is in fact a success just biding its time to happen.

There are at least four types of doublespeak which you can employ either offensively or defensively: euphemism, jargon, gobbledygook, and inflated language. For lack of space I cannot explain even briefly how they can help you climb out of a sinkhole, or toss a detractor into one.

Pointer No. 2: Wounds or blunders that shove you into a sinkhole are either self-caused or externally inflicted.  Whichever it is, the trick is smart thinking. Brush up on logic. There are a number of exit doors in logic that notable American political escape artists like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney have used to ride out controversial entanglements. To mention some: ingoratio elenchi (ignoring the issue), argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance), fallacy of false dilemma, artful equivocation, and argumentum ad odium (argument from hatred).

Final pointer: The best guarantee that there won’t ever be a need for you to climb out of a sinkhole is to talk mindedly and walk a straight line. Mind your talk, watch your walk. Only a sadistic idiot will smack a person gracious in talk and honest in walk.

 Gualberto B. Lumauig ([email protected]) is a past president of the UST Philosophy and Letters Foundation and former governor and representative of Ifugao.


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TAGS: Commentary, Judy Taguiwalo, opinion, politics, sinkhole, tito sotto
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