Oh, Yes. I’m the Great Pretender


As it turns out, Mr. Jorge Castañeda speaks impeccable English. Yet, after admitting to having spent years “interpreting other people’s bad jokes”, and promising he would do his best not to tell any of his own, he went on to indicate matter-of-factly that interpreting was how he paid his way through college.

For a second, I found the remark somewhat off-putting. It must have been a well-paying side job, since college was Princeton. “So much for bad jokes,’ I’m thinking.

But trained as I was to go beyond words and guess the true intentions behind a speech, I figured Mr. Castañeda did not mean to be downgrading. He was just trying to build rapport. Speaking in Monterey, CA, proudly dubbed the ‘language capital of the world’, and home to countless linguists, he knew he had to. He just chose to go about it a bit sarcastically.

Past the bumpy introduction, Mr. Castañeda captured everybody’s attention with an eloquent speech about most pressing issues. Basing his remarks on solid data he built a case for true win-win partnership in education.

Castañeda is at ease behind the lectern and his train of thought is easy to follow without being predictable. In his own avuncular style, and with just the right amount of humor, he quickly zeroed in on the issue: the world’s biggest problem these days is not poverty. It’s inequality. And there is but one remedy: education.

I was sold instantly. You can’t go wrong with education. We all know what it accomplished in Japan, Ireland and Korea. I know how much it could do for a country such as my native Brazil. I was hooked there and then.

Not for long, though. My interpreting persona soon surfaced again, stubbornly probing the message and the words for sincerity. Was Castañeda speaking his mind, or simply tailoring his pitch to the audience in front of him? Was he being true or merely convenient? Would he stand as strongly for education as a candidate, at the risk of a landslide defeat, like the one suffered by presidential hopeful Cristovam Buarque in Brazil, despite his life-long commitment to the cause?

Paradoxically, although he was pressing the right buttons Mr. Castañeda started to lose me there. And perhaps not through any fault of his own. If I were the one interpreting his speech, I would have tried to convey the same emotion, the same veneer of truth. And I would probably have done it persuasively, despite my secret doubting. But how fair would that have been? How would that honor my personal convictions? I started to feel really uncomfortable. Was he resonating with my shadow aspects?

At the end of the day, the art of persuasion through words will always entail some form of deceit. This notion was once beautifully captured by Fernando Pessoa in these famous verses:

The poet is a pretender
Who’s so good at his act
He even pretends to be pain
The pain he feels in fact

Just substitute ‘poet’ with ‘interpreter’ or ‘politician’, and the magic is done. We are, after all, great artists.

The truth is we don’t always say what mean. Circumstances do at times impose themselves, and we change our storytelling accordingly. The deception goes mostly unnoticed if we are the ones telling the story. And on the few occasions when it registers with us, we quickly learn to let it go with a shrug, under some practical excuse.

At some level, though, hanging your conscience along with your coat as you clock into work everyday does get to you.

Then again, as an interpreter you can always pluck both back on our way out.  After a while, most politicians can only snatch their jacket.

Image source: wowdownthiswall.com

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Do you share Mr. Castañeda’s views on education?

2 thoughts on “Oh, Yes. I’m the Great Pretender

  1. Thanks, Ewandro!
    Where did you get this translation of the masterful Pessoa lines? Did you draft it yourself? Love it!

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