Re: Using Silence in Meetings LO2886

Jim Michmerhuizen (
Tue, 19 Sep 1995 22:05:02 +0059 (EDT)

Replying to LO2844 --

On Sat, 16 Sep 1995, Michael McMaster wrote:

> Replying to LO2809 --
> There is an African word "endaba" which means that no action will be
> taken until talking has resulted in agreement. The standard is that
> there is nothing more to say. The discipline is that this is not
> compromised and may take days to occur.

What an extraordinarily evocative concept!

...and, as a "discipline": notice how different this is from many
ordinary stereotypes of "discipline". This cannot be enforced except
mutually. It's a custom; it's "the way we do things here".

How could one punish someone who violated this? For that matter, how
could one violate it at all? By continuing to talk? By attempting to
take action while someone else was still talking or ruminating? But who
would join?

The board game GO ends by mutual consent, when both parties see that
further play cannot affect the outcome. A considerable amount of
experience is required in order even to make that judgement correctly;
but (and in this respect it differs from 'endaba') the basis for the
judgement is, in fact, the brute impersonal facts on the board.

It's your use of the word 'discipline', Michael, that resonates in my
mind just now. Here's a couple of thought experiments rehearsing
themselves as I think about the matter:

a) ten people decide to have a standing-on-one-leg contest. The first
one to put his other foot down gets pounded to a pulp by the nine
winners. Is this a discipline like 'endaba'? Obviously not -- in fact
it's nearly an opposite.

b) ten people, deciding on a course of action, resolve to practice
'endaba'. One, secretly, decides this 'endaba' stuff is not for him; he
will do what he can to circumvent the practice. But what can he do? If
he keeps silent, the decision is made; and if he then speaks up, it's too
late, and he has revealed his duplicity. If, on the other hand, he
attempts to filibuster, his diabolical plans are also revealed.

c) a group of managers decide to practice endaba, with one change to
adapt it to their Western sensibilities: instead of ending when no one
has anything more to say, deliberations end when a vote says they should
end. Will the deliberations ever end?

--- I can't help noticing, too, that silence plays a role here quite
different from some of its other roles. Many of the contributions on this
thread have shown silence at the _beginning_ of something; here, we're
seeing it at the _end_ of something, signalling conclusion. (Of course,
it's also, even here, a beginning.)

     Jim Michmerhuizen
     web residence at
. . . . . . . . . .   Actions speak louder than words   . . . . . . . . . .
 . . . . . . . . . .        but not as clearly         . . . . . . . . . .