By Tony Samson
PUBLICLY LISTED COMPANIES routinely disclose information to the regulators, such as clarifications of news items, unusual movement of the stock (we do not know what’s going on, Sir), and, of course, financial statements. Some numbers need to be explained. “Advances to affiliates,” for example, should give details on which companies are involved and what the advances were used for, and whether they were paid back. Explanatory notes can run for many pages, and in small fonts.
Do explanatory notes also apply to social situations?
Unexpected sightings arise such as when one bumps into an acquaintance in an out-of-the-way place (like Subic on a Tuesday afternoon) with an unrelated person of the opposite sex (or the same sex) who is thirty-five years younger. Does the sighted acquaintance have to explain who he’s with?
To avoid awkward narratives which are difficult to concoct at a moment’s notice and likely to cause stammering, it is best to simply avoid acquaintances altogether. This evasion technique requires maintaining eye contact only with the waiter and taking the fire exit to the parking lot. This presumes that the potential explainer sees the embarrassing inquisitor before the latter sees him. It also presumes his presence in a certain place needs to be justified.
One can simply keep quiet and talk of other things like the last time the volcano erupted when bumping into an acquaintance. While this may be considered bad manners, it also communicates an unwillingness to play that social game. You don’t owe anybody an explanation. They’ll surely think of one anyway — guess who I saw covered with ashfall?
Why do we feel entitled to extracting details on another person’s situation? Why is it not considered tactless to blurt out intrusive observations on a person’s status — wow, you’re so fat? You’re like an elephant — how much do you weigh? (With or without my tusks?)
The inability or unwillingness to recognize borders behind which individuals deserve privacy seems part of our culture. The social pressure to overshare information may be part of our matriarchal ethos. Mothers, it seems, have carte blanche to ask what their children are up to, especially when they are behind locked doors — what are you doing in there? Why are you panting? Open this door at once.
Is it possible to greet an acquaintance with his family at a restaurant without introducing the person one is with? The knowing looks directed at the unidentified partner are silent directives to explain who the person standing quietly beside you is, as you engage in small talk and disregard her presence. Briskly moving on and heading for the exit, as the un-introduced companion may take issue with her unexplained status. (I feel so slighted.)
Westerners, or even compatriots who live abroad, are taken aback by the flurry of details they invite with a simple greeting — how was your day? The financial challenges (my credit card got billed for a purchase I didn’t make) and little crises of living (my maid took off with the driver) may be disgorged. It is quickly halted mid-stream with a raised hand — too much information. This is a signal to go back to formula — Fine, how was your day?
What about public officials living in mansions and flying around in chartered jets? Lifestyle checks have not really gained traction it seems. And anyway, the explanations are pro forma — that mini-resort is not mine. A friend just let me use it.
Explanations attempt to promote that what looks incriminating is an innocent episode, or none of your business. Those who have nothing to hide, being where they have every right to be and with a companion legitimately related to them, are only too eager to walk across the wide hall to greet distant acquaintances with the cheery — hi, how are you doing?
Press briefings which are supposed to provide answers to troubling developments like the abrogation of a treaty often resort to brushing off further inquiries — Because I want to do it, any questions?
The need for a leader to explain is no longer treated as the right of the people to know. It is merely shrugged off as a pesky remnant of an open society, even in the context of social media and its intrusions.
Withholding information makes interrogators work harder and maybe come up with startling revelations… that are dismissed afterward as fake news.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda