Maulana Wahiduddin Khan I Principles of Life

Bertrand Russell was a liberal in the ultimate sense of the word. He often expressed thoughts which were so unconventional as to be pro­foundly disturbing to the more conservative members of his audiences. In his autobiography he writes of an incident which took place in the course of one of his lectures:

“A man rose in fury, remarking that I looked like a monkey; to which I replied, “Then you will have the pleasure of hearing the voice of your ancestor.” (p. 565)

We do not have to deal here with the truth or falsehood of the theory of evolution. We have simply quoted Russell’s words as a good exam­ple of how to deal with provocation. When someone is critical of what we say and lashes out at us, we may retort in the same harsh manner, or on the other hand, we may make some quip which will happily divert attention from the matter under dispute. Another way is to simply remain unprovoked. No matter how strongly we are tempted to indulge in counter-criticism, we should check our temper, for the best response can never be one of sharp reaction; if we make a response at all, it should be well thought-out and positive.

Stinging retorts only stir up further controversy, whereas light­hearted banter, or the humble submission of alternative ideas can have a tranquillizing effect–like throwing water on a blazing fire. It is also effective in silencing an audience, as in the above-mentioned anecdote where it was Bertrand Russell’s humour which made his riposte so effective. Had he reacted adversely, he could never have retained the interest or attention of his audience. His lecture could easily have ended in chaos.