Sealing The Tongue

Ministhy Dileep | October 22,2013 02:37 pm IST

There is a naughty joke about a pastor who told his congregation, "Ladies and gentlemen, now I will show you the most dangerous organ of the human body." While half of the ladies shrieked in outrage and the men became stony faced, the Reverent put out his tongue.

End of story.

More political careers have been broken, more professional relations strained due to this subtle networking of tongues incorporated, than any other factual cause. Remember Gary Conduit after the Chandra Levy sensation? The Perfumo case? The Pamela Bordes case?

This most innate human tendency to denigrate, to gossip, to bitch (aha!) tends to be very commonplace in professional life too. Whether you are in academics, corporatedom, sports or public administration. The subtle poison that flows from your tongue is sure to reach your boss's/colleague's ears in double concentration. Within a matter of minutes. (And they sure will not be willing to die of Hemlock undiluted. A la 'Socrates. They will concoct a poison apple in retaliation. That will kill Not-So-Snow White forever.)

Have you ever watched a group indulging in gossip? Ah! There is no better illustration of teamwork than that.

The energy of participation.
The (loose) talk, the subtle barbs, the give and take
The multiple leaders that emerge
The ardent follower ship
The minute takers
The cross-checkers
The detail builders...
The very tangible results

(For, at the end, someone's life and reputation lies in ruins and all have the faces of happy hyenas after a sumptuous feast. Until they turn hungry once more and start on one of their own. Who had just left for the loo.)

Yet grapevine continues to be a reality of organizational communication. Why, there are websites devoted for gossip-official and otherwise. Many a time, organizational experts deliberately "leak" information into this unofficial yet vibrantly alive chain of communication. (One of my erstwhile bosses, after indulging in this mode of communication, told me sagely that this trick was something they didn't teach you at Harvard Business School. Of course it became clear then, from which book he had lifted it from.)

And how does it work? The news of the promotions, the assignments, the foreign trip travels like rumor. (Which is back from the world trip by the time Truth ties its shoelaces, as the saying goes). All the tears would have been shed, the wine glasses would have frothed, the recriminations diluted, the anger subdued by the time the real communication comes through. Like the rain after the dust storm. Very predictable and not in the least fresh. And incapable of causing a major epidemic of rebellion.

The Tongue Power is also about the "Power of Information". The most powerful of all cogs in the wheel of the great administrative juggernaut is often the ubiquitous clerical worker. For he has the typewriter and the files of important information before him. And he assumes to himself the role of the "Benevolent Dispenser and Arrogant Controller of Unofficial Disclosures". His becomes the most heard of phone number, his indeed the coveted of friendships. Woe to him who dares to call his game into the open. For Great Men have been seen trembling before such Mid-Point Saboteurs of Information. An organizational reality that continues to frustrate the common man and the honest professional.

Human beings cannot take in too much reality, as someone said. So let us slide into philosophical introspection. In one of the Jataka stories, the Great Master asks a rumor-monger to collect back the feathers of the pillow. That had been dispersed over the wind. To hit home the point that words once spoken, can never be taken back.

Ghalib, in total agreement wrote the couplet,

"Hai kuchh aisi hi bat, jo chup hun,
varna kya bat karni nahin ati"

(There is something, which compels me to seal my tongue . Otherwise, do you think, I have neither speech nor a tongue?") *

Psst... Just a moment. Someone is knocking at my door with the latest tidbit about You-Know-Who. See you next week then.

* Ghalib in translation, O. P. Kejariwal, UBS Publishers 2002. 


Ministhy S. is PG (PM&IR) from XLRI-Jamshedpur, and currently, an IAS officer working in the UP cadre. She has written five books - 'Unequal Equations', 'Learning with Tippy Tortoise: Tales for Kids', 'Happy Birthday: Poems for Kids' and a novel published by Dronequill Publishers, Bangalore....