June 24, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Changing the topic of the day

Even in ordinary conversations, the news of the day is background noise. Following topics of the day is supposed to make us better informed and worthy to sit at the big table to contribute our take on whatever is going on. What’s behind the casino breach of security? Is the military siege of the southernmost part of the country a dress rehearsal for something else -- these require comments, either rants or raves, from opinion makers.


Being “au courant” about the news of the day, the goings-on in politics, the impact of the tax reform package, and the latest joke to the troops is no big feat. It’s much harder to be out of touch with the barrage of hourly information in all platforms. The option to unplug and engage in a conversation with someone with a wider vocabulary and not glued to the news is getting rare.

A litigant is ruled out of order and irrelevant if he digresses from the subject under discussion, but this is only done in a court of law. In basketball (our favorite metaphor for anything) it is where the ball is not that allows the live spectator a viewing advantage over his TV counterpart. Thus, a player moving well without the ball is in the best position to catch the ball for an easy unguarded shot.

It is the peripheral matters that veer away from the newsworthy that should give us perspective and allow us to appreciate the unspectacular aspects of life. Relevance comes from the Latin word for lightening up, relieving, and lifting up. Levare (to raise) is the same root word for levity and levitation, as well as elevator.

Can a lack of relevance better relieve tension? Getting too close to a topic can lead to passionate debate where sides are taken to slide next to that ultimate impertinence of name calling and sweeping statements. Is it better to change the topic?

Should we be held captive by the headlines of the day dealing with political soap opera or the issue of sovereignty over a piece of rock? An object of inquiry, even contempt, can try a charm offensive using irrelevance. He can be a likeable fellow who lives a simple life without maids and took up karate in his youth. He likes Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole

Political apathy is something we should sometimes practice. It is a maxim propounded by David Letterman that comfort allows us to be more laid back with searing opinions -- don’t whine in the yacht.

Irrelevance keeps us busy. It’s the stuff of our columns, after all. (What’s he talking about?) We hope to catch up on the next Dickens book in our rereading list, Great Expectations. We are trying to make a significant dent on our inventory of unread books (both paper and virtual) by maintaining our pace of reading consumption quite unsuccessfully and avoiding purchases or downloading of new books, another lost cause.

Anyway, piling up books for future reading is a sign of optimism that we will somehow eventually get to them before a heart seizure and the onset of dementia make that goal impossible. Still, there is more to life than speculating on the fate of presidents and their vices.

Being irrelevant should not be equated to cluelessness or even being in a state of denial. It’s a matter of choice when deciding what topics to expound on, or even to allow others to invest key strokes on.

Opinions and those who write them just differ on their subjects and what they want to delve into. Topics like power and losing it are relevant only to those concerned. For the rest of us, interest lies in more mundane pleasures like landscape architecture and the pleasure of other people’s company. Sometimes it’s other things that happen in the boardroom and don’t get into the news at all, and thankfully not newsworthy at all, that always need to be carefully observed.

Not being relevant does not always mean being irrelevant. Anyway, ridiculing anything just happens to be more fun in the Philippines. You don’t get attacked by trolls waiting in the wings... especially when you don’t mention any names.

A. R. Samson is chair and CEO of Touch DDB.

ar.samson@yahoo.com