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Why are we so long-winded?

source: graphic.com.gh

In August this year, a delightful feature article in the Daily Graphic by Ms Elizabeth Ohene, veteran journalist and broadcaster, went viral on social media.

It was titled ‘Let’s get to the Point’.

Ms Ohene’s gripe had to do with long-winded public events in respect of long salutations, introduction of chairmen, vote of thanks and other bits that could be pruned off the events and make them mercifully shorter.

From the reactions on social media, it was clear that the article resonated with many. I loved it.

The telephone call

The other day, something got me thinking about Auntie Elizabeth’s article.

I concluded that perhaps we as people were wired to be long-winded, which is why we hardly got to the point most of the time in our daily lives.

A friend I had not heard from for a while called. I was at work, preparing for a meeting.

For the first three minutes, he went on about how long it had been since we spoke, enquired about anyone we both knew, how work was and a host of other little pleasantries that I was beginning to find mildly irritating, given that I really needed to get off the telephone. I hoped he would get to the point.

Eventually he did. He wanted help with school placement for a friend’s daughter.

Perhaps he felt that I would be offended if he delved straight into the meat of the matter, given that we had not spoken in quite a while.

Our traditional DNA?

Traditionally, a simple ‘good morning’, with a similar response, is not enough when neighbours meet. It comes across as too brusque and a tad unfriendly, devoid of any warmth.

One must enquire about the family as well and ask about their health and finally give thanks to God that all is well before parting ways.

In Burkina Faso, where I spent an academic year as a University of Ghana undergraduate during my French degree, greetings could last over five minutes.

We used to tease our Burkinabe friends that they even enquired of their neighbours’ goats and cows during their greeting sessions.

Of course, at meetings in the palace or in similar settings, an elder does not simply get up and blurt out his point.

Proverbs and other wise sayings may introduce his point.

And if you wish to address a chief, you do so through his linguist, who then has to repackage the whole thing to the chief in your presence, as if the chief did not hear you in the first place.

Quite rightly, I think, it is considered bad form to break the news of a death to a relative by simply getting to the point, especially if the person is eating. You engage them in conversation, whilst waiting until they are done, and then make the announcement gently in a roundabout way.

It appears our forefathers believed bad news deserved soft landings.

Also, even if the purpose of a visit to someone is known to him or her, custom demands that you re-state it when you are formally asked of the purpose of your visit after you have been welcomed and offered a seat.

Chinua Achebe was spot on when he wrote in ‘Things Fall Apart’ that, ‘among the Igbo, the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten’.

Replace ‘Igbo’ with any Ghanaian ethnic group and you would not be out of step.

The DNA crossover

This DNA has crossed over to our lives today in many ways. Take our morning political shows on radio and television, for instance. A simple ‘welcome to the programme’ by the host is usually responded to by the political panelist with a long line of greetings to the host, the station’s ‘cherished listeners or viewers’, the President or the leader of the opposition, depending on the panelist’s political leaning, and then people in his or her constituency.

This will be followed by praise or condemnation for the government, depending on the panelist’s allegiance.

That is just the preamble.

I am fully with Auntie Elizabeth.

A long-winding event is irritating. But maybe that is just the way we are wired. Perhaps in the face of this, any hope of us repenting from it is a forlorn one, I am afraid.

We may just have to grit our teeth and bear the long salutations and introduction of chairmen at public events.

Writer’s E-mail: rodboat@yahoo.com

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Eddie Young

Managing Editor, My News Ghana.

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