Sunday, December 19, 2010

Power and the dangers of linguistic violence


The Arts 1 Building, nowadays known as Kuri Dom Building, once the home of UPNG's Language and Literature Department as much as host to many a linguistic debate on power, hegemony and post-colonial discourse.
One of the pressing dilemmas a young graduate of UPNG can find himself in is when he first tastes the meaning of the word “power”. In his new job as an administrator or simply as an academic the temptations to misinterpret the word are enormous. This is particularly so when he finds himself in a working environment which demands a lot of him by way of qualifications and a good report on leadership skills. In his new appointment he will obviously find a lot of workers who can be many years his senior. He being one of the new breed of graduates who are sent out there to lead will have to be extremely careful with the word power when dealing with his new colleagues.

Sometimes the word is loosely coined in any work environment as “empowerment’, meaning one has the power to take full control of one’s destiny, if that destiny has a lot to do with knowing who you are, where you are, the job you are required to perform and most importantly whom you are given the task of leading. In such a situation and if you are as fresh as inexperience teaches it is always wise to tuck your self-pride away at the back of the mind and concentrate on the demands of the job you are given to perform. Ensure you understand the job thoroughly, meaning you know what the interpretations of its duty statement exactly are.

Your other colleagues, a good number of whom are your seniors by so many years of experience, will be the ones whose very performance under your leadership will help determine whether you are a good leader or not. Seek advice from them before embarking on a decision on what is to be done about whom or what. But if you take one quick peek at your qualifications, compare that to your colleagues’ moments of lifetime deficiency of sorts, and subsequently fall for making a fast decision without consulting anyone else in your work environment can have drastic consequences. Sooner or later someone from somewhere, not necessarily from your own office or within the company you are working for, will be obliged to approach you with precautionary measures albeit friendly advice on how far you have strayed as a leader. The Waigani campus as we all know usually churns out the best there is by way of manpower in leadership market potentials.
The word power is one of those quiet little animals that get stuck to our backs whenever we find ourselves in a position of responsibility. It is a word that needs to be attended to in the manner that we brush our teeth each morning. It means we have to value the word as a precious possession for which others look at us with respect and admiration. And it does not matter how old we are when we possess this little creature: we can be as fresh as 23 years old or as veteran as 60. That is the value of the word power. All around us are people who help us nurture the little creature with care and diligence. We become unkind to the little animal and away it goes, snarling and gnashing its teeth at anything in its path.

Now storyboard chose to talk about this word power here considering the way his younger colleagues at a certain organizational meeting recently decided to throw him overboard as a member of the board of directors, so-called. One even went as far as asking when storyboard was dying so that he would take over as the board’s chair of consultants and advisors. Storyboard rather than feel insulted thought it was his duty to remind the youngster that his question could be considered invalid as the meeting had barely begun. At this point the young man realized his mistake and had to put up with the stares that surrounded him for the rest of that afternoon’s session. As the meeting progressed, and at the back of his mind, storyboard could merely recall the words of Simon and Grafunkel’s Elcondor Pasa which ran “I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet...”

Thenceforth storyboard reminded his young entourage of advisors and educators where they were all coming from. Our country is in a bad way, we can see that. But it is not for us to panic, go for the emergency buttons, and that sort of thing. I think we have retained our position of respectability and credibility for so much in so many years. There is no need as yet to start revolutionizing ourselves here and there. Moreover, there is no need to bring the impeding woes of a bad parliamentary session at Waigani upon ourselves – least of all to places like ours here. We have a targeted audience given to us by our duty statements to cater for, and that is the generation that we are now teaching to become leaders tomorrow. That generation, and its parents of generations before it and those to come, knows who we are, what we are and where we are coming from. We don’t want even to change their minds about us and our conduct, do we now? That much duty we have; that much power we have.

At this point, the youngest of the younger colleagues present in that meeting, asked politely if everyone was aware of the word power and the sort of linguistic violence it would carry with it in given situations. In response to which, a senior colleague pointed out that teachers of languages, in particular teachers of English, should be wary of certain implications imminent in their choice of vocabulary – even in the least of susceptible remarks uttered or written about themselves and others.

This article is written especially for those young UPNG graduates anxious to wield power and influence wherever they go. It serves as a reminder that a UPNG degree certificate is a conferral of power upon and unto itself. It becomes a privilege, an expression of social status. It must not, therefore, be mistaken as a weapon to do what we all enjoy doing, and that is asking our next door neighbor to bow before us each morning we wake up to stretch and yawn. Power is a wonderful gift. Only a bad gesture and miscalculated use of language corrupts it.