Speak Up

Why do we find it so hard to say what we are thinking? For fear of upsetting the listener, for fear of being seen to have an opinion, because we don’t want to get into a conflict? It’s a knotty problem because if you bottle up your thoughts and suppress what you want to say it can have detrimental effects on you. It certainly does on me, my feelings start to churn, it’s all irrational really, what can go wrong?

When I was a kid I participated in a public debating competition. It was an unmitigated disaster. I was unprepared for the complete terror that would wash over me as I stood to argue the case for safaris against zoos. You could say the bottom dropped out of my world. I couldn’t get out of the stage fast enough. In a way it’s a good thing that I had that experience when I was a teenager, as I’m not afraid of speaking in public now. However I will never forget those few terrible, panicky minutes when I mentally grasped for the main points of my argument only to discover they were nowhere to be found. It was character building, that’s for sure, I learnt a lot about myself, and how to cope under pressure in a very short time. Which might be why I offered to be a judge at the first ever International Schools Debating Competition.  Every week for the next month or so, nervous teenagers are gathering to make speeches and debate around such thorny topics as euthanasia, war, and education. It’s a stretch for them: difficult subjects, thinking on their feet, debating points, all whilst they are being watched and listened to by their peers, and a panel of judges busily writing down their opinions about the performances. Wonderful. Good luck to them all.

But saying what you think and speaking in public are two separate things, the latter is certainly less dangerous than the former. There seems to be an epidemic of gossip running through Mallorca again, what is it about the expat community on this island that we cannot just say what we are thinking to the other person’s face, rather than unkindly to their back? Perhaps because we know the thing we are going to say is unkind, or unnecessary, or untrue. So why say it? The problem (and delight) with a small community is that everyone knows (or knows of) everyone else more or less. You shouldn’t be surprised if something you say does the rounds and then is repeated back to you a couple of days later. So, here’s a good idea: why don’t we start an adult debating competition instead of all of this mean chitter chatter? We could invite impartial judges to vote on who should win the motion, and award points for style and teamwork. I’d second that.

(First published in the Euro Weekly News on Feb 18th 2011)


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