The art of silence

The art of silence

It’s on days like these that I get a nostalgic longing for silence… I am not referring to the existential introspection usually brought upon by the holiday season. I am talking about the silence of politicians in days gone by.

Those who knew when to talk and when to keep quiet. Karolos Papoulias was a typical example. An intelligent man, with a unique sense of humor, a deep knowledge of history, and strong ideological views, yet he knew when to stay out of the limelight. Papoulias had much to say, but he also understood how a fleeting moment in the spotlight could be a dangerous trap.

You might say he was a politician from a different era. We can agree on that. Greek media was a more tightly knit group and no politician of his generation was tested by the seductive nature of Twitter or Facebook. There was more time to leisurely deliberate on one’s words before uttering them.

The pressure these days is intolerable. The news cycle begins at 6 a.m. and continues unabated until 1 a.m. It is clear some are in need of a forceful detox; publicity has become their oxygen. Without it they feel that they do not exist. It is a pity to see smart people, with something to do and say, self-destruct in oftentimes spectacular ways simply because they cannot remain silent, even for just a day.

What they do not seem to understand is that while our methods of communication are different, so too is the relationship between politicians and the public. Voters see politicians as a choice for a single, or at a push two, elections. It is not a coincidence that well-known, young political mainstays disappear from center stage rapidly. Time in politics moves quickly, and mercilessly.

The counterargument is that an old-school politician would not be able to survive in today’s tangle of social media and communications. Surely, he would have to adjust. But the art of remaining silent at the right time remains very useful to politicians, and everyone else involved in public discourse.

I will always remember something I was told by Wolfgang Schaeuble when I told him I had been trying to secure an interview with him for many years. “Look, no one ever lost their job for not giving an interview.”

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