TheCorruptiouslyObnoxiousSumanSumbing's Contribution to Modern Political Thoughts, in the grain of Plato's Dialogues.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The World's Greatest Conversation Enders (Part 1)

Oh where would the Art of Conversation be if there hadn’t be an accompanying “Art of Conversation Enders” that go along with it? There is a certain class of human beings who has taken the linguistic medium to be more than just a tool for communications or to be understood. But there is a subset still, from this class, that has taken that exercise to be beyond its present Science: that of how to make conversations stop, often with a punchline or two that leaves his opponent stupified, dumbified or just plain silent. Let’s have a look at a few mortifying examples:-

  • Alexander and Diogenes

My cousin Leman, in an earlier posting of his, had mentioned something about Diogenes (read here for his write up) where I believe he was trying to demonstrate about the simplicity in the life of the  great sage by narrating how his residence was made of an old wooden wine cask. Well do you know that among other things, Diogenes is actually famous for his brief one-line answer to Alexander the Great when the great conqueror encountered him? Ok the story goes like this.

In a visit to the city where Diogenes lived, Alexander had requested to meet with the old philosopher-hermit whose fame had spread far and wide. It was to be a symbolic meeting of the two highest achievements of man: that of political power and the other, spiritual and philosophical prowess. What happened when the twain met?

Alexander’s followers searched for him to arrange for the meeting and at last met him in his “residence”. Crowds had gathered for the event: the air reeked of wondrous curiosity. What would the great emperor say to an intellectual bum? Would the wino give good advice, or good admonishment? Upon seeing him in the condition he was in, Alexander could not help but felt a remorse in his heart, and he was near to weeping. “O Great Sage,” said Alexander. “Please tell me what is it that I can do for you. Anything at all”.
Diogenes looked up, recognised the man, and, with an unflinching tone, said, “Yes. There is one thing”. “What is it?”

“Can you please step aside? You are blocking my sun.”

Alexander stood up, gave up from trying to extract anything of worth from the old sage. Behind, far in the lines, there were guffaws heard. Alexander turned round and addressed the mockers: “Know very well that if I had not been Alexander, I would no doubt be Diogenes”. (Some other versions had it that Alexander said, “A single Diogenes is much more noble than a thousand Alexanders”).

  • Bin Baz and al-Muthi’i. 
Have you heard of the historic meeting between Abdul Aziz bin Baz with Abdullah al-Muthi’i? The former, when he was alive until a few years ago was the Mufti of Saudi Arabia and generally accepted to be the world’s greatest Islamic scholar. Unfortunately he belonged to what is known as “The Literalists” who believe that every word in the Quran should be taken at face value and no interpretation or re-interpretation should be necessary. The latter is from Egypt, an equally knowledgeable scholar but not as famous, and he subscribes to the belief that the Quran should be read with careful interpretations according to the proper settings and environments. Definitely they had been at loggerheads before, although remotely. One day the two happened to have a chance encounter, and it went like this:

Ben Baz: “Are you not Abdullah Muthi’i, the famed scholar from Egypt?”
Al-Muthi’i: “I am, Ya Sheikh, and I have graced myself due to your presence. And that could be more so if you can teach and highlighten me in certain things”
Ben Baz: “Tell me what is your Musykilah, dear sir”
Al-Muthi’i: “Well I just want you to tell me one thing. This verse in the Quran: al-Isra':72. Where Allah says, “Whoever is blind in this world, shall surely be blind in the hereafter. Now tell me, Sheikh---do we need an interpretation of this verse, or do we just leave it untouched as it is in its meaning?”

Abdul Aziz ben Baz went silent on hearing this. Silent, as silence should. Because, you see, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz was an Islamic scholar who was blind in both eyes! 

  • God and Umar

Umar al Khattab, Mecca’s most fearsome, roughest and bravest guy, had set out to kill the prophet. He decided that enough was enough, more and more people were abandoning the religion of their forefathers and Muhammad was pooling people to his side by the dozens everyday. The Quraishites didn’t dare harm him because of family tribal repercussions, so Umar felt he must take matters into his own hand. With sword unsheathed, he walked towards where the prophet was, to put an end to all this. On the way he met a person who asked him where he was going. When he told of his destination and purport, the man exclaimed, “O Umar! Before you do anything, you had better put your household in order first.” When asked to explain what he meant, the man told him that his own sister had embraced Islam. Hearing this Umar fell into a rage, and proceeded to his sister’s house instead. After a brief shuffle where he hit his sister till blood flowed and she said she would rather die than forsake her new faith, Omar the stone-hearted man became empathetic and asked what was in the Quran that her sister was reading that could make her so staunch a believer. He demanded to see a copy. Her sister said that she couldn’t allow that, because he was still a polytheist and unclean. So Umar took a bath and demanded to see the Quran. Lo and behold! The first words he read struck him till he felt his knees gave away and he nearly fell down. The words that he read was Ta-Ha : 14 :-

“Verily I am Allah. There is no God but Me!”

He decided there and then that these were no ordinary words, no one could dare enough claim some things like this and concluded that it must come from The One True God. He asked to be brought to Muhammad to embrace Islam.

How many of us used to read these words again and again and nary do we feel anything at all in our hearts, as though its importance is akin to that of a fly that perches on our nose, easily shooed off?

p.s. Before I go on and collect more for my part 2, how about you join me and share some of the things that you have met that could be classed as "Conversation Enders"? It doesn't have to be between two philosophers or between two scholars. Even between you and your daughter (who had tried to trick you into giving her an extra candy) or any experiences you had, would be fine. Any takers?


  1. Salam, tuan. I supposed I am the first taker? Conversation ender that happened between my 4-year old daughter (at that time in 2005) and I:
    Daughter (D): Ayah, that's our prime ministerer (yup, at that age, that was how she pronounced it) on TV!
    Me (M): Yes, that's him.
    A pause. A momentary silent. I went back to my book.
    D: He's not very smart, is he, Ayah?
    M: Huh? Why did you say that?
    D (rolling her eyes, looking exasperated, like trying to explain to an idiot that the world is round. Or is it?): Weellll...he keep repeating the same thing over and over and over and over again, Ayah. Like he doesn't know what to say. He is boring la, Ayah.
    M: Hmm (agreeing with her on the boring part)...may be you're right. Yes, we have had better prime minister before, I guess.
    D: Ayah, can you be a prime ministerer if you are not clever? I thought you said I must study hard and be a clever person if I want to be a rocket scientist (that was her ambition, then. Now, I'm not too sure...). I don't want to be a rocket scientist la, Ayah. I want to be a prime ministerer. Can be on TV, can be on poster...
    M: (STUMPED).

    For a full story:

  2. Dear Uncle/Ayah:

    What a sweet story, sweet daughter. Am reminded of a story in Hollywood once where they wanted to prop up an actor to act as President of the United States and the entire crew was against it because the actor just did not have the ..."oomph" be portrayed as president. His name was Ronald Reagan.

    I heard another conversation ender happened in our Parliament once. It went something like this:

    Lim Kit Siang: Government &^%$#&^%$ this., Government (*&%!*^@%##&^ that. (Usual typical anti-BN ravings)

    One BN-Back Bencher: Mummy Foo! Shut up and Sit Down!

    Lim Kit Siang : (Silent---not even whimpering like a dog---and dutifully sat down)

  3. Hahaha! Nice one on LKS! Still waiting for your Part 2, tuan...