A painting hangs on a wall in my parents’ home. The painting is of a house in the Adirondack Mountains that my parents built. The house in the painting now belongs to my older sister. In the painting, young spruce and pine trees crowd the foreground, while in the background, the eye is directed to the East face of Whiteface Mountain, home of the downhill ski events of the 1980 Olympics.
I visit with my parents and remark on what a cliché I have become. As I grow older, I come to see that the same parental wisdom I may have rebelled against as a youngster has become the bedrock of my deeper truth, the core of what I teach my own children, and the wisdom against which they too might rebel. I realise that I have internalised my father’s lessons. I am grateful that my dad has always been a talker, even when I was not a good listener.
We talk about politics, about how the world has changed, and how the main political events of his life (FDR and World War II) and mine (Watergate and Vietnam) have tempered our opinions of the world. Franklin Roosevelt was an excellent communicator. Richard Nixon was a quiet man who measured (and recorded) every word he spoke, and generally hated speaking to the public.
My dad points to the Adirondack House painting on the wall. “Do you see those mountains painted in the background?” He asks. I nod. “When I went back to the house, and stood in the exact place where that picture was painted, do you know what I saw?”
I confessed I did not.
“The trees. They grew. The land prospered. And that was a great thing. Life held firm, it went forward, and everything worked out as it should. But this is what it cost — because life prospered, and the trees grew, this painting that was made thirty years ago is no longer accurate. You can no longer see the mountains from that same vantage point.”
My father’s mind, like the crowded forest, is so teeming with thoughts that he must share his wisdom with the world. A fertile mind cannot remain aloof, like the view of the distant mountains. I thank God for that. Helen Keller once said that “Character cannot be developed in quiet”- quite a statement for a deaf woman. And my father was, and still is, generous in his speech, and in imparting his words of wisdom to his children and grandchildren. In his tenure as a State University of New York college president, he made speeches on three continents, spoke to the press, and maintained the lines of communication not just for his university, but for environmentalism on Long Island, for the blind, for Catholicism, for common sense.
Once, when I was very young, I expressed a wish that I could just “keep my mouth shut.” My father suggested that perhaps reticent people had nothing much to say, or were too scared of any reaction to speak their mind. To be talkative was to risk error, and therefore reflected courage.
When I read the recent article about Mahfuzur Rahman, and the trouble he faced for calling the Prime Minister “talkative”, I just didn’t see how that was a “disgrace”. As a person who is also talkative, and who also makes mistakes, even if the tone of Rahman’s comment was derogatory, I would never be insulted by being called verbose. We Americans admire people who speak frankly, who even “shoot from the hip” verbally. This is a sign of courage, and of having nothing to hide.
When I was researching how Bangladeshis might feel about talkativeness, I came across a piece written by a Bangladeshi blogger named Rumi Ahmed on June 16, 2007.
“Until very recently Sheikh Hasina’s main drawback was her talkative nature and making of irresponsible spontaneous remarks. However lately her trademark saber rattle has become the last remaining hope for Bangladesh. This is the time when there is no one left in the country who would dare speak up against the current interim caretaker government. I can’t tell how much I disliked the comments of Sheikh Hasina. But nowadays I keep waiting to hear a word from her. Among all the insanity, shortsightedness, jabs against politics and democracy, Sheikh Hasina remains the last person standing. I wish her all the best.“-http://rumiahmed.wordpress.com/2007/06/16/
We may, at times grow tired of hearing our politicians talk. We like to think of our leaders as those distant, unchanging and dignified mountains on the distant horizons of our lives. But what of a Prime Minister, or anyone, for that matter who has something to say?
It seems to me, sitting here half a world away, that many Bangladeshis are indeed talkative, at least chatty in writing, because they have something intelligent to say. Good education, fertile imagination, and a love of one’s audience often compel the word counts ever higher. To say that calling someone “talkative” is derogatory is really like saying calling soil “fertile” is derogatory, simply because it has pushed the trees upward and has obstructed our more statuesque and less fecund views.
My sister’s beautiful house sits on a hill halfway up a mountain. From the driveway, you used to be able to see Whiteface Mountain. Now, only when drought or acid rain threatens the upper limbs of the trees can we make out the distant peaks. Usually, our hill is lush and green, even during the long winters. This is a triumph, a tribute to two generations of wonderful stewardship of the land. We know that something must be very wrong if we can see the peaks. I know what my father would say-
“A portend of hard times is when the overgrowth no longer blocks our view…
… or when our politicians fall silent.”
Bangladeshis, I wish you many future generations of talkative politicians.
Frank Domenico Cipriani writes a weekly column in the Riverside Signal called “You Think What You Think And I’ll Think What I Know.” He is also the founder and CEO of The Gatherer Institute — a not-for-profit public charity dedicated to promoting respect for the environment and empowering individuals to become self-taught and self-sufficient. His most recent book, “Learning Little Hawk’s Way of Storytelling”, teaches the native art of oral tradition storytelling.