‘Empty Barrel’ Syndrome

Kodwo Brumpon

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” – African proverb

It is interesting that we have been told and taught over and over again that ‘empty barrels make the most noise’; yet we quick to hand over leadership and sensitive positions to the very individuals who often are the loudest and those who are quick to express their opinions. Maybe we want to give them the benefit of the doubt, but how long are we going to keep on making the same mistakes over and over? Maybe we are not as smart as we think ourselves to be, so we might as well let those who are capable of expressing themselves take centre-stage.

It is even scarier when you realise that a catchy phrase can simply sway a people into a different state of consciousness, whereby they simply believe what they heard without asking questions. Maybe, the sweet sound of the phrase simply is hope. It is not strange many do not even to ask for the ‘how’. It’s more like all that matters is that the phrase sounds good.

Maybe we are shallow and we love the reverberating, booming volume that characterises the sound of a hollow object. That is why even though we knowingly appreciate that “a narrow mind and a wide mouth usually go together”, we still get excited by the noise. After all, “we do not see things as they are, we see things as we are”.

Today, more than ever, we need to appreciate that we live in an era when it takes nothing to share one’s opinion publicly. Since many of us are becoming more and more unconcerned about anything, and we no longer examine the value proposition in a talk, many more individuals are finding it easier to be loud. Anybody can now create a blog and publish whatever opinions they have.

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Coupled with our culture of simply sharing stuff because we have the ability to do so, opinions have become cheaper than onions. Gone are the days when writers were those who had majors in English and/or Journalism. Today, with the aid of technology, we have all become writers – and we are sharing our opinions a lot more easily.

Technology is enabling all of us to have opinions about everything that is going on in our world. Sometimes, we forget that not all the opinions have been thought-through. Many of them are based strictly on emotions, without any rational backing. And many of such opinions are circulating in wide circles and being forwarded by people who also do not bother to dissect what is being said. Like a bundle of emotions, there is no intelligent backing to these opinions.

This is not to put on the blame on technology. As the cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky puts it, “Technology is basically neutral. It’s kind of like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house, or whether a torturer uses it to crush somebody’s skull”.

Maybe it is our own shallowness that is allowing for the thriving of opinions passing themselves off as facts. And why not? “When we take things for granted, the things we are granted get taken from us”.  We all have speech, and so many of us do not have much regard for speech. What we do not realise, or maybe we do not know, is that life emerges from what we say. We need to understand that our relationships emerged from our communications.

The life we have now came from the things we all said in the past. What we say today determines what tomorrow will be. That is why talk is not as cheap as we tell ourselves. Talk is the most expensive commodity in our relationships. But if you do not analyse it critically, it has no value. A lot of us talk about how “actions speak louder than words”. Well, when you learn to listen – and listen properly, you do not need to watch out for actions. You can tell peoples’ character by the things they talk about. It is really that simple.

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The point is that even children are taught that it is not enough just to have an opinion; there should always be reasons to support whatever anyone is saying. People need to be able to tell you why they have a preference for what they like. Simply saying you like something is not enough. It is not enough to have an opinion without a reason. That is like stuffing medication down someone’s throat because you want to, and pinching the nostrils closed so that the person swallows it without his or her will.

You cannot imagine what happens when you begin to question people about how they came to their opinions. A lot of times, their opinion begins to fall apart because it has no rationale to support it. They have such strong opinions, but as soon as you question how they arrived at that belief, you begin to realise they are just talking about their feelings. And if you ask them “why do you feel that way?” it is even worse; they begin to stutter and their opinions begin to crumble, because they do not even know why they are feeling that way. That is when you truly realise that “empty barrels really make the most noise”.


Kodwo Brumpon is a management consultant and a life coach who inspires individuals, groups and corporate bodies to think and pursue that which is true, practice goodness in their interactions and create a more beautiful world with their products and services. Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at kodwobrumpon@gmail.com

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