Discretion’s the word
The dictionary lists about a dozen meanings of “discretion,” such as good sense, prudence, circumspection, sagacity, sound judgment, and sensitivity. I am a politician and veteran of many PR challenges, having held sensitive communication posts in four administrations, and discretion was my mantra in my long years in public service.
Discretion, no question, is the most important command in PR. It deters you from making an exaggeration or stating a lie — the two most common weapons of spin quacks when called to produce a narrative about a situation that they foolishly think will stand scrutiny.
It’s easier to understand why discretion, more than any other virtue, is important in building goodwill and nourishing relationships when you consider its opposites—rashness, thoughtlessness, recklessness, and irresponsibility among them. Disasters (social, economic, political), lost opportunities, simple disagreements degenerating into vicious exchanges, crumbling faith and trust in government leaders… The world is full of them because of the disregard of discretion as the operative principle in human relations.
Lately the Establishment has been regaling us with views, statements, opinions and outpourings that bump against one another in a carnival of conflict themes, slants and directions. You can’t be wrong in thinking that an epidemic of foot-in-mouth
disease has broken in officialdom given the prevailing talk—some nicely crafted but simply arid and unacceptable substance-wise, others just a slim cut above idle prattle, plain nonsense and demagoguery.
One recently afflicted by foot-in-mouth disease is among the more voluble officials of the land. For reasons known only to himself, or perhaps to break a long absence of his name and mug in the media (an unbearable stretch of one week), he solemnly insinuated to reporters that four opposition personalities (he named them) could be linked to the violence perpetrated by the terrorist Maute group in Marawi City.
He said the four had travelled to Marawi to confer there with personalities with terrorist leanings on the prospect of organizing a force of sufficient size and strength to destabilize the Duterte administration. Shortly, he claimed, the Maute rampaged through the beautiful Maranaw enclave, spreading terror and death and causing the declaration of martial law in the entire Mindanao.
Not lacking in melodramatic skill, the fellow whipped out and waved to the startled reporters a photo of the “conspirators” supposedly snapped at the meeting venue, pronouncing it proof of the veracity of his revelation.
Well, the bombshell story exploded on nobody’s face but the narrator’s. The four alleged principal attendees at the meeting were proven somewhere else on the day and hour of the supposed meeting. The fact was there was no such meeting. The photo purportedly snapped at the meeting was taken in a coffee shop at Iloilo International Airport two years ago.
In short, the story was a complete concoction, incredible even to anyone willing to suspend disbelief. You peddle a story false on its face that maligns respectable fellow humans, and you can expect torrents of flak to rain on your head however well covered it may be. This is what this guy who wove the fantastic tale continues to endure.
I don’t wish to add any more whiplash on this fellow as he himself could have been a victim of trolls, those notoriously efficient purveyors of false news. My aim in this commentary is not to exacerbate the woes of one in trouble but to offer advice to those in positions of power: to reacquaint themselves with the simple nuggets of wisdom distilled by time and men of percipience and good sense. Here are some:
Look before you leap. Don’t believe all you hear; reflect on them first. Don’t be a person who says “Ready, fire, aim!” Keep your mouth shut until you are sure of what you want to babble about.
That is, before you make serious declarations and decisions, make sure these are grounded on unimpeachable facts, not on guesswork or on patently false news. Be a creature of discretion, not a loose cannon spouting illogic and nonsense.
Live by these words: “Prudence, not rashness, wins greatness.”
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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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