Alex Tabisher asks how can we achieve a condition of willing and well-intentioned verbal or written engagement that will bring fresh and constructive cognition to problems in life? Picture: African News Agency(ANA)
Alex Tabisher asks how can we achieve a condition of willing and well-intentioned verbal or written engagement that will bring fresh and constructive cognition to problems in life? Picture: African News Agency(ANA)

Let’s exchange discourse for making threats

By Alex Tabisher Time of article published Mar 18, 2021

Share this article:

This week’s piece will probably not set the world alight, because it invites our readers to return to the basics which we have discarded or forgotten. It is called “discourse”.

The dictionary meaning of the word “discourse” is a verbal expression in speech or writing; a verbal exchange; a conversation. It goes on to say a formal and lengthy discussion of a subject, either written or spoken. The archaic meaning is the process or power of reasoning. The adjective describes it as a running backward and forward in order to reach a conclusion through reason rather than intuition.

Discourse is the willingness to enter into discussion in order to achieve synthesis or consensus.

The beauty of discourse is that it does not seek to be finally right. My oft-repeated mantra is useful: we do not seek to be right, but to be left to continue the exercise of listening and discussing.

It makes me sad to note that we do not adopt discursive mode instead of the ones that use words such as “demand” and “reject” and the other threats that have replaced our willingness to talk to each other.

I like the fact that discourse has been de-academicised. The old fathers used discourse for debate, rhetoric or declamatory exhortations that left no space for the “other” opinion.

I think a few examples might be useful. There is a bonny little lad called Archie whose indeterminate skin pigmentation is the talk of the town. In other words, is he white, off-white, mixed, hybrid or all the other hurtful epithets that leave us forgetting that this is an innocent child whose parents have a skewed agenda? The little baby’s appellation is being debated within the impressive walls of a $140 million domicile.

Intelligent and patient discourse will accommodate those who say he is royal, or his dad is a relative of the Queen of England. That other queen, who claims to promote talking along the lines I proffer, makes it a media event second only to the most major sports event in the US.

Sympathetic discourse will point out that this unfortunate parading of an innocent is a huge media event, generating funds for the exploiters of the population caught in archaic –isms.

Or take the various attempts at public discourse conducted in our recent history: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Zondo Commission.

Judge Raymond Zondo must qualify for the Nobel Prize for Patience. He is chairing, on national television, a circus of circumlocution and throat-clearing that makes the Spanish Inquisition sound like a bridge club for spinsters.

How can we achieve a condition of willing and well-intentioned verbal or written engagement that will bring fresh and constructive cognition to problems in life that have outlived their validity? Too many –isms to defend.

And when we do engage with matters that need cool heads, it becomes projects or awareness programmes, or faith-specific or subject domain-specific.

We would do so much better by using the conduits that do not categorise or victimise. We should avoid digging in and defending hurtful and outmoded convictions. The Queen reassured the world, in her four-sentence response to a two-hour Oprah Winfrey spectacle, that they were not a racist family. Good God woman, your very existence was based on bias and unspeakable atrocity to those who dared to be born of pigmentation.

And the parents of that hapless bairn could get a life and spread some goodwill that demystifies prejudice, bias, hegemony, xenophobia, etc.

Discourse is the gentle art of discussion and listening. It is a skill that develops slowly. It is an emotional minefield that can become a celebration of universal tolerance.

* Literally Yours is a weekly column from Cape Argus reader Alex Tabisher. He can be contacted on email by [email protected]

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus

Do you have something on your mind; or want to comment on the big stories of the day? We would love to hear from you. Please send your letters to [email protected]

All letters to be considered for publication, must contain full names, addresses and contact details (not for publication).

Share this article: