22 October 2014

The p-word cuts both ways

This is the fifth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion I am writing for the FREE section of 'The Nation'.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness. 

People say this is the Age of Communication.  It’s not enough to know the word.  You have to say it.  It has to go around. You got to update status, got to blog, got to tweet and in these and other ways send the word along multiple pathways so that it can reach as many as possible. 

It’s not easy because there are thousands of others also updating statuses, blogging and tweeting.  There are thousands of words that come your way even as you try to send your word out.  So you have to make sure that you dress up the word in colors so unimaginable that they stand out amid a thousand other words which in comparison look dressed in used clothes whose color has faded.  The frill counts most times, unless of course you are really creative or else the word is so powerful that it can stand on its own and still be read.  That’s rare.

Anyway, what all this means is that if you are a rebel and really want to change things so you can inhabit a country you feel comfortable in you will have to spread your ideas, alone or with like-minded rebels. In this, remember, you are not only competing with other rebels espousing other causes who also want to grab the same piece of public attention that you also want, but you have to contend with ‘enemy word’.  The ‘enemy’ is also doing the same thing and typically has more resources to deploy.  This is why, whether we like it or not, rebels have to frill the words they want others to read.  

It’s called propaganda.

It can fun, mind you.  Way back in the eighties, a presidential campaign was launched with a bold announcement: ‘සටන ඇරඹේ’ (The fight has begun!)  A few months into the campaign a couple of parties that had pledged support for the candidate had backed off.  Another candidate made the wry comment, ‘සටන ඇඹරේ’, or ‘the fight has got twisted’.  That’s a double twist, if you will. 

During the same election another candidate came up with a teaser, (Who is this and what is he doing?), followed by a long brag about the ‘who’ and ‘what-he-did’.  His opponents came up with their versions of the man and his true exploits.

There’s absolutely no way you can insure yourself against wordsmiths, but rebels who are serious about rebelling and obtaining decisive and lasting change must be conscious of what might be called ‘word-back-at-ya!’  That’s the easy part of this p-word business. 

The difficult part is that if you’ve over-frilled you end up playing at the margins of truth and therefore long-term credibility.  There was a young undergraduate at the University of Peradeniya, a bright young man in fact, who would on occasion slip up and say something really silly.  That’s ok.
His problem was ego.  He would try to cover-up the slip and end up saying one stupid thing after another (32 stupid statements, his friends would say jokingly).  

The same can happen when you play at truth-margin.  You have to maintain what’s really a marginal.  You say it over and over again and you start believing it.  When that happens, you remove yourself from reality and alienate those you want to stand with you.  And you end up wondering why others don’t see your point.  Worse still, by the time you’ve got there, you would have probably got the dimensions of your cause twisted and lost sight of destination.


Words are easy and for this very reason they are dangerous.  The cut and they cut back.  ‘Fighting for a Cause’ and ‘Fighting for Power’ are two roads that run parallel to one another; parallel and still close to each other. One wrong step and you are no longer ‘rebel’, even though you might still call yourself that.  The p-word is a little devil.  It’s good to keep that in mind.  
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