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I reject the premise

By 2353NM  

Have you ever noticed that if a number of politicians don’t really want to answer a question, they ‘reject the premise’ or ‘reject the characterisation’ rather than answer it? Current Prime Minister Morrison is a past master of the ‘art’.

The implied message is that the question for some reason is either beneath their ‘dignity’ to answer or ‘too silly’ to be bothered thinking about. The response gives the impression the question is awkward or will bring up an issue that the particular politician doesn’t want to address. A similar sentiment, popularised by Adam Savage on the TV series Mythbusters is ‘I reject your reality and substitute my own’. As the Urban Dictionary suggests, the

quote basically means “you may be technically right, but you’re not changing my mind.”

While it could be argued that Adam Savage used the line for comedic value, the concept of refusing the premise or the characterisation of a question is not only deflection, it is suggesting that the question is so far way from being meaningful it should never have been asked.

However, if someone is asking the question, there is clearly some interest in a genuine and honest response. Politicians are supposed to be accountable to the people they represent for their entire term, not only for a few months every third or fourth year when it’s time to kiss the babies, shake the hands and promise that their particular beliefs and ideologies are far better than any other choice. If a reporter at a press conference is told the premise of their question is not accepted, more often than not the impression is the politician is trying to hide something, because the politician hasn’t given us any justification to consider another option.

In other parts of our lives, we understand implicitly and accept that a flat “no” is never a good answer. When responding to our partner, employers, employees or children, if we are delivering an unfavourable outcome, most of us innately know that an explanation is required along with the “no” so the person receiving the message is aware of why there has been a negative response.

So why do politicians choose to look tricky, evil and dishonest by refusing the premise of a question or more simply deflecting it? Discussing ‘why we are or not’ rather than just ‘yes or no’ does take a little longer than the length of a soundbite on the nightly news, and there probably are questions asked that make the politician wish for the ground to open up and swallow them. However if politicians put themselves up for ‘no holds barred’ long term interviews more often we all might have a better appreciation of why various decisions are made and what’s in it for us, engendering trust. It also might improve the typical shallow reporting of national events that seems to have been an ongoing issue in Australia (and elsewhere) for a number of years.

It’s just open communication and leadership. Most of us know that while saying what you really think about Aunt Beryl in front of your five year old (who repeats everything verbatim) may not be a particularly clever idea, explaining why something is or isn’t happening is a learning experience for your children. They realise there is more to a decision than the self-evident and should eventually realise you’re not saying ‘no’ just to be vindictive or annoying. In a similar way, if politicians actually explained why decisions were made, the reasonable amongst us would probably consider the evidence provided versus our pre-conceived ideas and understand and accept the basis for the decision — even if we don’t agree with it.

Leadership is the ability to made a decision that is believed to be correct based on a set of circumstances; and then if the circumstances change or are demonstrated to be incorrect, admitting the circumstances have changed and re-assessing the decision. Open communication is discussing the reasons for a decision and if relevant, the reasons the initial decision was incorrect. If people who claimed to be political leaders did admit errors and discuss reasons, the method of operation for ‘shock jock journalists’ would have to change as there would be no fodder for the ‘gotcha’.

Rejecting the premise or the characterisation of the question points to trickiness and deceit. Taking the time to provide an explanation is much more open and a discussion around why the question was inane, irrelevant or pointless demonstrates there is nothing to hide.

While we have seen traces of real leadership and communication during the current pandemic period, at this stage it is certainly too soon to be able to call most of our political ‘leaders’ authentic leaders and communicators. We have an opportunity to embed a ‘new normal’ in political and business life into the future — our future leaders need to answer the question rather than reject or deflect them. Who knows, they might engender trust if they do.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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15 comments

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  1. Lawrence S. Roberts

    Not being particularly facetious, why don’t we speed up the Neoliberal experiment to its penultimate conclusion and privatise government? I am sure McKinleys or one of those other management companies would be efficient at a much lower cost. Or we could ask for selective tenders. Norway is doing an excellent job of their own economy and New Zealand would be keen and competitive.

    Compassion and discretion would be written into the brief and then we might get some.

    The absence of intelligent statesman like behaviour from our present incumbents is an embarrassment. The ignorance of letting manufacturing and ore processing go off shore was imbecilic as was the selling of the gold stock pile.

    Morrison was right about one thing; it is a Muppet show,very expensive and only funny for all the wrong reasons.

  2. totaram

    When they say they reject the premise of the question, can’t one ask what is the exact premise that is being rejected? That would force the responder to go one step further and in some cases, they would have to admit that their objection was meaningless.
    Just my two bits.

  3. Phil Pryor

    Full of superstitous shit, flooded with fantasy, drenched in nonexistent idiocy, maddened and muddied with myth, legend, ruined with rumour, riddled with ridiculous lies and cnfusion, the P M a Patheitc Misfit, is such dud that no village woulf want this repulsive idiot…

  4. pierre wilkinson

    I reject the premise of your question and quite frankly I am appalled that you would ask it,
    but let me just say that we in the government are doing a great job, much better than what Labor would do, and we will continue to do a good job despite the mess we inherited from Labor

  5. New England Cocky

    2353NM, you are an optimist if you consider that Scummo Sacked from Marketing or any other COALition representative has any leadership qualities what-so-ever because the fundamental pre-requisite for candidature is having no ability, no brains and no empathy, all characteristics required in a competent leader.

  6. leefe

    Personally, I reject the premise of ScoMoFo and his misgovernment. Just wish that more voters felt the same way.

  7. New England Cocky

    @Phil Pryor: Oh Phil. I just love your erudite comments that so accurately describe the political situation that Australian voters have placed themselves in ….. and have to wait until 2022 to get the COALiiton out.

  8. RosemaryJ36

    Leefe and NEC – a lot of voters do want this government out and do not want to have to wait until 2022!
    JOIN EXTINCTION REBELLION,

  9. Andrew Smith

    totaram: Agree and says a lot about the quality of our scribes or journalists, reporters and presenters whom are neither willing nor able to follow up and demand an explanation to such retorts or linguistic games….

  10. Kampbell

    ‘I reject the premise of your question’ is a lazy and rude response.

  11. Pagnol

    2353NM I admire the cogency of your article and the extreme patience it must have taken to craft it. After 7 years of this arrogant, cynical, incompetent/ corrupt government I am so fed up I could not take the measured approach you have managed. Every time I am confronted with the latest “efforts” of the bastards I can only think/ see red.

  12. Jack Cade

    The very worst, most insulting thing about this coalition government is the fact that they do not even try to conceal their corrupt activities. You could put it down to stupidity, but although they are, in the main, stupid, the real stupidity is the salient feature of the electorate. They don’t try to hide their corruption because they know that they have a hard core of 40% or so who will vote for them no matter what. There is also a large sector who believe that voting Liberal shows they are not working class. It’s as simple as that. It’s not policies – just ask them. It’s ‘class’ distinction. I’ve argued with enough of them to know.

  13. paul walter

    Yes, Jack Cade, because they are trying to normalise this behaviour to the extent that people no longer consider the exception to the rule dishonesty rather than honesty and accountability.

    A bit like Plato’s cave or the Cosmic Noise, if you are habituated to it, you never notice it.

  14. Arnd

    What do I think?

    I think there are questions – many questions – which are based on implicit assumptions which may not be acceptable to the correspondent. “Have you stopped beating your wife?”, being a famous and oft-cited example.

    To get to the nub of “I reject the premise” in a manner that respects the principle of philosophical charity (search the term, if you are not familiar with it), as it regularly occurs in contemporary political discourse, would require a detailed and methodical comparison of the premises of liberal vs social democracy … – which a) is totally beyond a single post on The AIMN; and b) would show both to be severely wanting. In fact, I go so far as to say that both are antithetical to each other, and are begging to be combined in a synthesis which could provide a solid premise for public policy formulation.

    But that would require both the political left and the political right to drop their tribal allegiances. Fat chance of that happening.

  15. Luke

    It says something about how pathetic our journalists are that they don’t follow up Scotty from Marketing’s “I reject the premise of that question” default response with a simple follow-up: “on what factual basis do you reject the premise of that question?”

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