Tag Archives: Mental Health

Conversation or Propagandist Lecture?


The following is an excerpt from the book “The Braindead Megaphone”, written by George Saunders (2007).

The book is well worth a read, and then perhaps, some action. I thought of this book in response to other web-content I encountered today. Clearly, if you say something loud enough and often enough, or rather, turning it around and rewording, if I hear something at the exclusion of everything else and if I hear it repeatedly, it starts to pervade me. This applies equally well to internal as well as external dialogue.

In any event, it’s a succinct couple of paragraphs that reminds me to be ever vigilant to where I turn my attention and to remember to listen to myself and others in a curious, interactive way, not because I can’t avoid the input. If the input is too loud or too much, it’s my responsibility to get to a place where I can regain my balance, or simply stop paying attention (if that’s possible).

And George Saunders writes: “Imagine a party. The guests, from all walks of life, are not negligible. They’ve been around: they’ve lived, suffered, own businesses, have real areas of expertise. They’re talking about things that interest them, giving and taking subtle correction. Certain submerged concerns are coming to the surface and – surprise, pleasant surprise – being confirmed and seconded and assuaged by other people who’ve been feeling the same way.

Then a guy walks in with a megaphone. He’s not the smartest person at the party, or the most experienced, or the most articulate.

But he’s got that megaphone.

Say he starts talking about how much he loves early mornings in spring. What happens? Well, people turn to listen. It would be hard not to. It’s only polite. And soon, in their small groups, the guests may find themselves talking about early spring mornings. Or, more correctly, about the validity of Megaphone Guy’s ideas about early spring mornings. Some are agreeing with him, some disagreeing – but because he’s so loud, their conversations will begin to react to what he’s saying. As he changes topics, so do they. If he continually uses the phrase “at the end of the day,” they start using it too. If he weaves into his arguments the assumption that the west side of the room is preferable to the east, a slow westward drift will begin.

These responses are predicated not on his intelligence, his unique experience of the world, his powers of contemplation, or his ability with language, but on the volume and omnipresence of his narrating voice.

His main characteristic is his dominance. He crowds the other voices out. His rhetoric becomes the central rhetoric because of its unavoidability.

In time, Megaphone Guy will the ruin the party. The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main role as reactors-to-the-Guy. They’ll stop doing what guests are supposed to do: keep the conversation going per their own interests and concerns. They’ll become passive, stop believing in the validity of their own impressions. They may not even notice they’ve started speaking in his diction, that their thoughts are being limned by his. What’s important to him will come to seem important to them.”

Image source: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/beth-davies.html

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