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Keep his counsel?

中国日报网 2013-08-16 10:30


Reader question:

Please explain “keep his counsel”, as in: He should learn to keep his counsel.

My comments:

He should learn to keep his opinion to himself.

Perhaps he talked too much.

Keeping one’s counsel is a British idiom, the full term being “keep one’s own counsel”. Counsel is a formal word for advice. We seek other people’s counsel when we’re in serious trouble, for instance. That means we seek their advice on how to solve our problems.

To keep one’s own counsel is therefore to keep our good advice to ourselves, to keep our opinion and thoughts private and unknown, i.e. not to confide in others.

The thing to remember about this phrase is the word “counsel”. As I said, counsel is a big word, very formal. Hence do not take it lightly. You should use this phrase on people who have a lot of good things to say but choose not to say it. Don’t, that is, use it on people who have nothing to say in the first place.

In our example, further explanation is not given as to why “he” should learn to keep his counsel, but we can pretty much safely infer that he talked too much and perhaps landed himself or other people in trouble. That’s why the speaker thinks he should learn a lesson and, hopefully, hold his tongue in future.

As a general policy, I think it is a good idea for one (one and all, that is, i.e. all of us) to learn to keep our own counsel sometimes. Off the top of my head I can list a hundred reasons (by an incomplete count) why we should.

For one thing, we do talk too much, don’t we?

And secondly, often times when we talk, we do so without thinking. We don’t use our head. We talk even when we have nothing interesting or helpful or even relevant to say.

For another, we are all very argumentative and often too judgmental. People today are driven by one-upmanship and are governed by more or less Western ideas of either you’re right or you’re wrong when, in the final analysis and when all is said and done, things are neither right nor wrong. They’re just the way they are. Anyways, today, the Western ideas of either you’re with us or you’re against us dominates the world. The traditional oriental tenets of both this and that (are all fine) have lost their way, so to speak.

For another, our opinion doesn’t matter. This is hard to take to most people I know. They think their opinion matters. In fact, they think only their opinion matters – but you get my point.

For yet another, we seldom speak without regretting it. I, for one, often make public comments in this column and regret it soon after. On politics especially, almost all my comments I regret later. I always find them quite distasteful, to speak the truth.

I find politics as a subject matter distasteful, that is.

I have more to say but, since we’re talking about learning to keep our own counsel, I’ll call it quits right here.

Now, media examples of people who keep their counsel and, for better or worse, speak not:

1. P. N. HAKSAR was an intellectual powerhouse and one of India’s most successful strategists who astutely established the political omnipotence of a weak prime minister, Indira Gandhi, through populist measures in the Sixties and early Seventies. He also served as ambassador to several countries and was one of India’s few remaining Cold Warriors and die-hard socialists, instrumental in negotiating a timely military pact with the Soviet Union before the third war with neighbouring Pakistan in 1971, to counter any interference by its ally, the United States.

As principal secretary to Indira Gandhi and India’s most powerful civil servant, Haksar played a major role in negotiating the 1972 Shimla Accord with Pakistan after the war that led to the breakaway East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh. His closeness to Gandhi made Haksar perhaps the only man privy to the secret negotiations concluded between her and the Pakistani prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto over the disputed northern province of Kashmir. It remains one of the world’s most volatile flashpoints, where armed Muslim separatists have been waging a civil war for an Islamic homeland since 1989 that has claimed nearly 20,000 lives.

The secret deal that led to the Shimla Accord after Pakistan was defeated and with over 90,000 prisoners of war in Indian hands remains a mystery. When all negotiations between the two antagonists had broken down Gandhi and Bhutto decided to make one last attempt to break the impasse by meeting without aides. It is widely believed that only Haksar knew what transpired between the two that eventually led to the Shima Accord which also agreed to resolve the Kashmir dispute bilaterally. But he kept his counsel, revealing nothing despite severe provocation in recent years.

- Obituary: P. N. Haksar, Independent.co.uk, December 2, 1998.

2. Guardiola puts both heart and soul but also appendix, ligaments, red-blood cells and hair follicles into his work.

Just ask his players. I asked Leo Messi last week, “What keeps you from relaxing or dropping your standards?” He said: “Pep does, he’s on top of every one of us, every minute of every training or playing day.”

Xavi, in the same situation, responded: “Pep’s almost got a sickness for football, he never stops, he never draws breath he just works, and studies, and researches and then he’s on the players like a hungry hawk.”

Guardiola’s partner, Cristina, is so long-suffering that she had to allow him to accept the first negotiations to become Barca coach in 2008 a couple of hours after she’d given birth to their third daughter, Valentina.

Doting parents beaming down at the gurgling youngster, a knock at the door of the hospital room, and then-Barca president Joan Laporta sticking his head into the gap: “Nice work on the little one, but can we have our guy back now please Mrs. Guardiola?” is not far from what happened.

Barca regularly travels to away games on the same day, unheard of in La Liga, because Guardiola stresses that the players don’t need to be sitting bored overnight in a strange hotel.

What’s less written about is that prematch nights tend to be when he has his best-quality family time available.

As a young man he was into politics, poetry, philosophy and even modeled Antonio Miro fashion at the Barcelona Spring Fashion Festival, Passarella Gaudí.

But, sadly, there are misinformed sections of the public and the media who like to have it both ways. If our footballers misbehave they are uncouth yobs. If they show any interest in fashion, reading, philosophy or art, then some assume they must be gay.

Unfounded urban myths dogged Guardiola toward the end of his playing days with Barcelona to the extent that the man who discovered Leo Messi, agent Josep Maria Minguella, recently published a book in which he claims Guardiola was partly inspired to seek new pastures because “people around the club and in the media began to speculate about his private life and to claim he was gay.” There is always burnout at Barca.

When this proud Catalan is angry, the power and the heat are like lava – witness his regular clashes with a variety of referees and coaches over the past couple of seasons. But he kept his counsel and the vicious rumormongers were left without the satisfaction of a response. Good luck to him whatever he does in his private life, but it was and is no concern of ours.

- At 40, Guardiola is still awe-inspiring, by Graham Hunter, ESPN.com, January 18, 2011.

3. REMEMBER the opprobrium heaped on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, in June for using tear gas and water-cannon against his people? Imagine the outrage if Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to fire live ammunition into demonstrators on the streets of Moscow. But over the weekend, when Egypt’s generals set about killing scores of protesters, the West responded with furrowed brows and pleas for all sides to refrain from violence. Such meekness betrays not only a lack of moral courage, but also a poor sense of where Egypt’s—and the West’s—real interests lie.

The shooting took place in Cairo early on July 27th near the parade ground where, three decades earlier, President Anwar Sadat had been assassinated. Supporters of Muhammad Morsi, ousted in a coup at the beginning of July, were marching to demand that the army should restore him to the presidency. Riot police (and their civilian supporters) opened fire. More than 80 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr Morsi’s party, died; many more were injured.

After the killing, Barack Obama kept his counsel. It fell to John Kerry, the American secretary of state, to speak out—and then he merely called on Egypt’s leaders to “step back from the brink”. Likewise in Britain David Cameron, the prime minister, left it to William Hague, the foreign secretary, to rap the generals over the knuckles. America’s protest at the ousting of Mr Morsi had been to delay the supply of some F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. But that modest gesture was more than undone just before the shootings. In an unwise precedent, the administration declined to say Egypt had suffered a coup, because to do so could have triggered an automatic block on aid.

The Muslim Brothers—and other Muslims across the Middle East—will conclude from all this that the West applies one standard when secularists are under attack and another when Islamists are. Democracy, they will gather, is not a universal system of government, but a trick for bringing secularists to power. It is hard to think of a better way for the West to discourage the Brothers from re-entering Egypt’s political process.

- The crackdown in Egypt: Democracy and hypocrisy, The Economist, August 3, 2013.

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Go to Zhang Xin's column


About the author:

Zhang Xin(张欣) has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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