Speaking politically: They don’t know which planet you are from
|Praba Ganesan is Parti Keadilan Rakyat's Social Media Strategist. He wants to engage with you, and learn from your viewpoints. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan|
JUNE 21 — A vast number of speeches on the campaign trail (how else to categorise the protracted electioneering?) operate as such; long felicitations which appease cultural/religious sentiments and probably convince the masses of the speaker’s religiosity. These are followed by diatribes and stripping down of opponents.
Nothing is spared, and the obvious is screamed harder and harder (Why would they not? Decades of school teachers assuring students that decibel levels show conviction and truth in the words have deemed it so.)
The faithful cheer on every syllable, encouraging the further pulverising of the usual suspects. You get to see dead horses turn to pulp.
It happens on both sides of the divide, despite both possessing several genuinely engaging personalities.
Some of the foulest used to be our former Pakatan Rakyat flag-bearers. They were not classy while with us, but now they are reaching new depths of putrid expression. They are defying their own previous petrifying markers.
I guess they have to make hay while the sun shines. Soon to be without seats or backers, soon without podiums or the accompanying mineral water bottles.
Without them reminding us, our own better angels should be urging us to raise the bar of political stumping in this country. Malaysia deserves better.
Invite me to your heart
I learnt about telling stories from watching other people. It intrigues me, seeing someone affect others through speech. That the story equally with the telling of it conjures up feeling, hope and even love in the listener.
Speeches were ever present for me while growing up.
My dad would speak and they would listen. They being his co-workers, family and friends.
Whether in the small patch outside my grandmother’s Kampung Pandan squatter home or at the taxi depot, they would gather. There was something reassuring in the way he spoke and how he felt about the things he spoke about. It translated very well to what people wanted to feel as much as hear.
Today I work for politicians and there is no shortage of speeches.
Every now and then, a person claiming to be the better and calmer of those present would remind everyone that it should be the content not the nature of the speaker or the speech which should sway people. That people must be resolved to the solid not the airy-fairy.
As much as policy, management and governance rely on clarity and deliverables, to unhinge the importance of connection in a speech is counter-intuitive and just bad advice.
The details matter, but they only do because people matter. And people want to feel.
Without withdrawing the need for shape and purpose, a speech can still reverberate. At the same time, while clamouring for shape and purpose, don’t reject offhand the need to connect in any given speech.
What are you to me?
Comicbook superheroes are instructive in explaining appeal.
They are not watchable because of their superpowers. They captivate by allowing readers to experience the superhero and his alter ego’s difficulties with the powers. Being heroic is not having powers but acting beyond one’s own obligation.
This is in a microcosm what voters wish from their leader. That they lead them while at the same time share their human aspirations. To not be faultless, but to be thoughtful and display grace. To share what they believe as persons.
It starts with relating to the voters, to tell them who you are. There is a story to a person, they don’t just jump off from the alien mothership enroute to Planet Zygabubu.
A stump speech is not solely the opportunity to point out all that is wrong with the people who run the country, if you are a Pakatan candidate. We are far past the point of giving another example of why those in power are incorrigible.
Malaysians want to decide that the replacements can do the job, to exceed the incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN).
I am convinced that our leaders, Pakatan’s top and middle tier, are ready to assume the mantle. But I have only one vote.
The larger population wants a broad appreciation of these leaders through basic, random sampling. Their impression is based on perception, and a narrative is a powerful means to build the most traction.
They form an opinion based on the story telling, not disparate facts.
To them they feel someone is robbing their houses, but they want to be sure passing the keys to the bunch of unknown guys across the street would not mean another set of robbers pouncing on them. Though these robbers are merciless, they are the robbers they’ve known all their lives.
So Pakatan leaders, tell your countrymen why you intend to represent them. Not that the other choice is rotten, but that you have your heads screwed right.
They want to know who you are to them.
Checklist to victory
First would be for each Pakatan leader to present himself as a unique proposition. They matter as persons possessing qualities valuable to the community. Whatever BN has done or continues to do only underlines further why this person is needed. But the person would be needed irrespective if there is a BN or not.
That would mean the voter hears the politicians’ story.
Why not take that postgraduate degree and form a tech set-up and make millions? Why are you trying to take on a 65-year-old undefeated party?
Within the story lies the essence of the leader. He does not need to be incensed all the time to show he cares.
Pakatan leaders often underscore their own tribulations.
People want to know how it feels to be a thirtysomething activist with some savings and uncertain income to be hauled up by the police for expressing a political opinion. How did the family react? Did the wife try to talk him out of the cause? Was there doubt and how did he rediscover his faith in his beliefs?
People don’t have to agree with you, but they can always respect you.
If there was more of this at the rallies, an unprecedented wave of support would emerge for them. Because after a long time, people would be rooting for Pakatan leaders and not only denouncing BN’s antics.
Talk to me like I matter, and I’d listen to you for being a leader.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.