The stimulus that has prompted the writing of this article was the headline in last Sunday’s daily newspaper Politis, which read: “Nicosia is not in favour of linking the Cyprus problem with energy issues”. The text below the headline left no room for doubt that at least some members of the Cyprus government must have attended a classic course of study on how to talk without saying anything. The basic rules which form the subject-matter of the course are the following:
Rule 1: Set out in your speech phrases that are of universal acceptance, such as “care for everybody”, “protection of the vulnerable”, “combating poverty”, “securing a just, functional and viable solution to the Cyprus problem”. Never commit the mistake of providing details on how you intend to achieve the admirable targets you have set for yourself.
Rule 2: Allow escape routes in your speech. For example, if you say “we need to proceed with courage and without hesitation in pursuing our objectives” add immediately thereafter “we should, nonetheless, proceed with caution”. Thus, if, at a later state, somebody criticises you for advocating an inappropriate course of action, you will be in a position to point out that you had stressed the need to proceed with caution but people chose to ignore you.
Rule 3: Use professional speechwriters. They will propose the use of words or phrases which will impress your audience. For example, “We all need to help to address the problems confronting our homeland”. Who will dare to disagree with such a statement?
Rule 4: Use euphemisms liberally. For example, you can say “We don’t view difficulties as an obstacle but as a challenge that will allow us to prove our worth”, or “We are not criticising you; we are just trying to help by identifying the points of your proposal that can be improved”.
Rule 5: Never seek a head-on collision with anybody. It is much easier to be an advocate of somebody else.
Rule 6: When you are not certain as to what is the right answer to a question that has been posed to you, you can say “I am really glad you have posed that question because you give me the opportunity to underline the fact …” or “this is an excellent question, which underlines the importance of an adequate preparation and the existence of the necessary readiness for confronting the adversities that we will encounter in our path”. By this time, everybody will have forgotten what the question was.
In closing, let me cite verbatim a living example of the proper application of these rules on the part of the Cyprus government, as demonstrated in the Politis headline: ‘Cyprus diplomatic sources pointed out to P that “the dynamic momentum and possible energy synergies could form an incentive for Turkey to become more flexible on the Cyprus problem; however, under no circumstances, should they be used as a consideration for the attainment of such a goal” ’.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia