08 January 2015

Dear Rebel, please keep it short

This is the fifteenth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'.  Scroll to the end for other articles in this series.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.

This happened more than twenty five years ago.  The University of Peradeniya re-opened after several months.   This was not unusual.  Political unrest and student activism ensured that the universities were more closed than open during that time.  As was typical back then, the ‘Action Committee’ announced a campus-wide boycott of lectures on the first day itself.  As was also typical, all students were asked to attend a meeting. 

The meeting was shifted to the gymnasium to accommodate all the students from the various faculties.  Now not all students are interested in politics.  Very few indeed are actively involved in politics.  The vast majority just wanted to complete their degrees, find jobs and built their futures.  The ‘Action Committee’ was not hated but neither was it loved. 

The Convenor of the Peradeniya University Action Committee was a JVP member just like almost everyone who was anyone in the student movement of the time.  His name was Nizmi.  Nizmi was likeable young man, a good organizer and an excellent orator.   Still, the general mood of the audience was not exactly supportive of the student movement, even though it could be said that students were highly critical of the then Government. 

Nizmi spoke.  He spoke for approximately two hours.  He was sharp. To the point.  Did not slip into meaningless repetition and reiteration.  He was as comprehensive as one could expect.  By the time he finished, the entire student body of Peradeniya, barring a few who were ideologically opposed to the JVP, were ready to do whatever the Action Committee wanted.   If that was the outcome desired, then Nizmi had really scored.   

Not all long speeches, even back then, have that kind of impact, it must be remembered.  Also, effective as Nizmi was and although he had all the time in the world because students didn’t really have anything else to do that morning, it must be said that more often than not, you don’t need to make long-winded speeches to win over an audience.

J.R. Jayewardene had once said that if someone cannot state his or her case within 10 minutes he/she has failed.  He is said to have cited two cases:  The Buddha’s first sermon, the Dammacakkapavattana Sutta and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Brief and yet encapsulating the essence of the respective doctrines. 

This is not 1988.  These are days of countless people having things to say and having multiple avenues to express themselves.  This is the era of in-your-face bombardment of messages.  Intense competition among countless people to have their voices heard.   This is also an age of short attention spans.  A day and age of 140 characters to say it all.  Anyone who wants to convince anyone else about anything has to be conscious of these realities.

Keep it brief.  Use a analogy.  Check the Dhammapada for example (and of course for inspiration).  So much said in a single stanza of just four lines.  It’s as though the book was written for you, the Rebel of the 21st Century. 


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