By Nirmaldasan

Persona is what you are in the eye of the beholder. A cheat who sports a beard and dons saffron clothing is mistaken for a sage. The cheat is the real person and the sage his persona. A fool is deemed wise until he speaks. Here the fool is the real person. His silence projects a persona of wisdom. So persona is the virtual person. Every person has many personae. The outward appearance, the way he dresses, the way he walks, the way he listens, the way he communicates, all contribute their mite to the projection of persona. An ethical life is an attempt to project the real person as persona.

Every utterance is part of a person's personality. In a paper The Personaic Nature Of Language, Dr. Nirmal Selvamony of the Madras Christian College says: "Meaning is never wholly contained in the verbal body emanating from the speaker. Rather, it is a point where the nature of the person, world, and the sacred converge." And this point is persona. I.A. Richards, in Practical Criticism, talks about the four kinds of meaning -- sense, feeling, tone and intention. The words of the speaker have a literal meaning that is called sense. Feeling is his attitude towards the subject. Tone is his attitude towards the audience. Intention is his aim to create a certain effect. These meanings converge in a certain context of utterance to project persona. The context of utterance needs elaboration. There is no arbitrary choice of the four kinds of meaning. The speaker may be more open about his sense and feelings with his friends. But he may not open his heart to an acquaintance. His tone also depends on whether his listener is his subordinate or employer. His intention is also shaped by the mood his audience is in. Thus communication is personaic in nature.

The fundamental theorem of personaic communication was stated by Shakespeare's persona, namely Polonius. In Hamlet, Polonius tells his son Laertes: "Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice: Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment." Clarity and brevity should attend each utterance. This is possible only if you have a command over the language. One way of acquiring it is by studying great literary texts. This can be done only if you have a grounding in essential grammar.

The need for communication skills can never be exaggerated in an age of information technology. People with dubious talent and shallow intellect go places thanks to their communication skills. A Tamil proverb says: "Only the child that can speak will survive." You may be an expert in your area of specialisation but if you cannot put your thoughts across to those who count, I am afraid you will be trampled in the mad rush for power and glory in a world which values persona more than the real person.

(Presented at the Rajalakshmi Engineering College, 21 December 2001.)

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