I kind of miss President Obama. His eloquence. I’m reading a book “The gift of the Gap – how eloquence works” by David Crystal.

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Danny Yung’s Tian tian xiang shang 天天向上 exhibition at Raffles City, Singapore. Photo by me. Phrase means daily self improvement. Always looking up.

Another great book which I will review soon is “Talk like Ted” by Carmine Gallo; on the art of Storytelling.

Back to Crystal’s book. He describes Structure as essential to a good speech, using strings of pearls to connect ideas.

Obama’s victory speech in 2008 had an effective 41 words and 4 word punchline.

If there is anyone out there
Who still doubts
         That America is a place
          Where all things are possible
Who still wonders
          If the dream if our founders is alive in our time
Who still questions the power of our democracy,
Tonight is your answer.

Parallelism with “who still”. Chunking works with your telephone number and with speech.

Shakespeare invented it first. (All literature students know its called poetry. You have it in most cultures. Including Chinese and Japanese.)

Power of threes and fours.

Churchill used it.

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
In war: resolution
In defeat: defiance
In victory: magnanimity
In peace: goodwill

More than four, opines Crystal, the sequence loses its unity. And rhyme, I add.

Order, order, order
Before and after

Variation
☆Campaign, problem, challenges, new dawn
☆From the general and abstract, to the particular and concrete.
☆Invite the audience by repeating a catch-phrase; several times. Eg Yes, we can.
☆Appeal for action

This is our chance to answer that call.
  This is our moment
   This is our time

To put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids
To restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace
To reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth

    That out of many, we are one
     That while we breathe, we hope

And where we are met with cynicism and doubt and those who tell us
That we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people. YES, we can

☆Obama’s word on dream links in spirit Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech.

Political eloquence has its critics. Lloyd Bentsen, criticising the Ronald Reagan administration, using alliteration:

America has just passed through…… an eight year coma in which slogans were confused with solutions and rhetoric passed for reality.

For more pearls, gems and precious insights, read Crystal’s book. He’s a Professor of Linguistics and broadcaster, amongst many literary achievements.

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.

We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.  – Mark Twain

1. Try to be surprised by something every day.

It could be something you see, hear, or read about. Stop to look at the unusual car parked at the curb, taste the new item on the cafeteria menu, actually listen to your colleague at the office. How is this different from other similar cars, dishes or conversations? What is its essence? Don’t assume that you already know what these things are all about, or that even if you knew them, they wouldn’t matter anyway. Experience this thing for what it is, not what you think it is. Be open to what the world is telling you. Life is nothing more than a stream of experiences – the more widely and deeply you swim in it, the richer your life will be.

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Starbucks making a dragon with hula hoop.

8 tips to make your life more surprising, from Tania Luna, Surprisologist

2. Try to surprise at least one person every day

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My brother surprising us with an Octopus mask.

Yesterday I had a prompting to gift a friend E a Egyptian perfume flask. Turns out it was her birthday, I didnt realise it. I didnt heed my instincts and will pass it to her next week.

3. Write down each day what surprised you and how you surprised others

On my blog?

4. When something sparks your interest, follow it.

Really takes effort. Before being surprised, you live with the mundane.

5. Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to

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Every morning my goal is to water the custard apple tree. Three fruits spotted.

6. Spend time in settings that stimulate your creativity.

My garden. What setting stimulates you? I find learning and reading stimulates me. Doing my Precepts homework. I’m covering the Book of Daniel and Acts.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.”

The Ground Book/地の巻:
“It is difficult to realise the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.

– Miyamoto Musashi 宮本武蔵, Book of Five Rings

Skills are good to have but they should not be kept in your special trophy wall. If you want to be creative, you need to step out of your comfort zone and make decisions that are based on what is happening at this very moment and what was a success last month.

Besides if you use the same methods and “tricks” you will become quite predictable. Instead, try new approaches and learn how to fail. Use your skills to break new ground, not recreate beautiful stuff to get self admiration. When really failing, you sure will not forget about it and there is always a lesson to learn from this.

http://geofflivingston.com/tag/musashi/

http://dudye.com/10-things-miyamoto-musashi-can-teach-you-about-creative-strategy

Interesting video of a Japanese chef Jun who bought a rusty knife and sharpens it. Watch Jun make a radish rose with his sharpened knife. That’s skill.

How to polish a knife: Watch as a rusty piece of Japanese metal becomes a sharp, shiny blade

What do you think are important 21st Century skills?

In “So you have been publicly shamed” by Jon Ronson, p102, he cites the famous Stanford Prison experiment and interview by Dave Eshelman, the “evil guard”.

Dave explained his actions saying that the first night was boring. “So I thought I’d get some action going”. In his mind he decided to channel sadistic southern prison warden Strother Martin from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” which he had just seen. “I thought I was doing something good at the time.”

Doing something good.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. A quote by one of my lecturers in political science at INSEAD.

Somehow this quote haunts me today as it usually does, after a class teaching ethics.

In his book, humorously written, Ronson provoked the thought of people who do evil, under the impression that they are doing public good. Think online shaming.

Many investigative journalistic stories especially the one on female developer Adria Richards vs Hank, where she publicly called out on a group of guys at the PyCon conference for not being respectful to the community. He lost his job as a result. The online trolling community attacked her company and she lost hers as a result…. The downward spiral had its rippling effect.

Chinese historian Shima Qian who compiled 史记 in 86BC, concluded that while those who do evil will suffer evil. Those who do good may not necessarily be rewarded.

He did not elaborate. But I suppose that we need wisdom while doing good. The good you do may not really be good.

歇后语xiehouyu are two part sayings. The first part is a riddle, puzzle or reference to story or history and the second part, sometimes not expressed, is the meaning.
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Photos by me. Taken at the Gardens by the Bay 2017

公鸡头上一块肉
大小都是个官
Top of the rooster’s head is a piece of meat. More or less its an official position

公鸡下蛋
妄想
Rooster lay eggs- wild wish

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打鸭子上架
有意作难
Chase ducks up the pole – will is there but difficult to carry out. Like herding cats.

鹅吃草, 鸭吃谷
各人享各人福
Geese eat grass, duck eat oats. Each enjoy what it likes.

温水烫鸡
一毛不拔
Scalding chicken in lukewarm/cold water. Not a feather can be removed. That is, very stingy.

问客杀鸡
虚情假意
Asking guests whether to slaughter a chicken for their meal. Hypocritical show of hospitality. (That is, if you are generous you would have done it. Usually guests in Chinese culture are obliged to say no.)

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A sculpture of Zhu Ge Liang诸葛亮 at the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

Zhuge Liang is iconised in the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, as a wise chief strategist of Liu Bei. The military strategy book “36 strategems”, contains many of his “cunning” military strategies in using minimal resources.

How Zhu GeLiang 诸葛亮 came to work for Liu Bei was dramatised in a story “3 visits to the humble straw abode” 三顾茅庐”. Zhu was a recluse who rose above petty politics. Legend goes that he could read weather conditions and wind direction, an important skill considering that wind direction can affect the flight of warships and arrows.

Liu Bei and his 2 sworn brothers Zhang Fei and Guan Yu decided to visit Zhu Ge Liang at his home in 卧龙岗 wolonggang or hidden dragan ridge。 When they travelled to his home, they saw a small boy sweeping the door who told them that Zhu was not at home.

On their second visit, they saw a youth studying and upon enquiring found that Zhu was away. Liu Bei left a letter for Zhu explaining the purpose of his visit.

On their third visit, the three men were told that Zhu was at home but sleeping. Zhang Fei, the general, wanted to wake Zhu up. But Liu Bei decided to wait. By nightfall, Zhu finally woke up.

Touched by their sincerity, Zhu agreed to work for Liu Bei.

In Chinese culture, there is no mention of the persuasive words or vision by Liu Bei that moved Zhu Ge Liang.

China, and Japan belonged to what is known as High Context Cultures (高背景文化). Here the setting, status and non verbal behaviour matter more than actual words spoken. Men of Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu’s stature could easily have sent Ambassadors to persuade Zhu. But Liu Bei himself came to visit Zhu. Relationship and trust are important factors.

In low context cultures, words convey facts and information and are more important in communication.

High and Low context cultures is a theory proposed by anthropologist Edward Hall.

However, is the distinction so clear between high and low context cultures? Story-tellers would imply that even in low context cultures, tone of voice and “pauses” convey meaning. Pauses – are important in conveying or emphasing a word. More is not necessarily better.

Sarcastic tone of voice vs appreciative tone.

声调变化 Change in tone can convey sincerity.

Punctuation can change the meaning of a word.

“A woman without her man is nothing”

(1) “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”

Or

(2) “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”

Indirect cultures
According to Managing across cultures by Charlene Solomon and Michael Schell, in indirect cultures, the background context is very important. It isn’t what people talk about that is important but how it is said.

People tend to be indirect. Listeners are expected to interpret statements to infer what the speaker is saying.

Speaking eloquently but indirectly is a prized art. In some societies, the idea of saving face is an essential part of information exchange. In indirect cultures, direct statements may be seen as rude.

In direct cultures or low context, people look for content not what surrounds the content. They expect all the information they need is contained in the words they use. People are direct and expect to be taken at their word.

Clarity of communicating in words is paramount. Simplicity is admired and language may be punctuated (with vulgarity) for effect.

Unlike indirect societies where saving face is essential, here saving face is not important. sometimes openly challenging someone you disagree is admired.

In a globalised world where cultures meet , our differences in perception in communication can cause misunderstandings. Lets give each other the benefit of the doubt.

Do you have similar instances in your culture where non verbal convey more than the verbal?