The plague of hyperbole

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Mr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily.  He is also a contributor to The BusinessThinker.com

This editorial is also published in Kathimerini.

Hyperbole in public debate has played a significant part in our predicament: It creates a smokescreen through which we cannot see reality and we cannot do the right thing. Hyperbole confuses us, we miss the essence of things, we cannot make decisions. Verbosity — another form of hyperbole — is used to muddy the waters, to hide the fact that the speaker either does not know what he is talking about or is afraid of the effect of his message.

Hyperbole is worse than a lie, because lies pursue their creators, they weigh on them, whereas those who exaggerate will always retort that they were simply speaking the truth. And they will get away with it, because we too have become addicted to hyperbole: Exaggerations allow us to generalize, to discard whatever is not in our interests, to avoid responsibility and to avoid demanding accountability from others. Because even when we do demand that someone pay, we are distracted and confused. We have seen this repeatedly following revelations of alleged scandals: By the time journalists and politicians have all had their say, with all their exaggerations, people are convinced that “they’re all on the take” and that “everyone gets away with it.” Cynicism and anger are the result.

These days, hyperbole is king — both because some of the technicians of this rhetorical weakness are by nature hyperbolic and because of their inability to tell the bitter truth to people who don’t want to hear it. Deep in our crisis, we still don’t know how bad things are nor what we can hope for. We hear so much and believe so little.

When a senior minister cannot meet the commitments he has made to our international creditors (such as the dismissal of some public sector employees), what does he do? He declares that all such employees may be laid off. He shows his belief once again in the dogma that inflated promises may cover up for a lack of action. A colleague of his, meanwhile, declares that all public sector employees are useless — either because he believes hyperbole will push his government in the right direction or because he needs to distract people from his own ministry’s problems.

In all the arts — as in politics — simplicity is the most difficult thing to achieve. It takes artistry and honesty to tell the truth. To say what needs to be said and then be silent, so as to hear the answer. As long as hyperbole and verbosity continue, we will be aware that our government is afraid and our opposition parties are lacking in policy. They speak so that they do not act.

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The author:

Mr. Nikos Konstandaras is managing editor and a columnist of Kathimerini, the leading Greek morning daily. He is also the founding editor of Kathimerini’s English Edition, which is published as a supplement to The International Herald Tribune in Greece, and Cyprus.

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