Can you think of a person that gives excessive amount of details when asked a question to the degree of not letting you arrive at an answer at the end of his/her length talk? That is to say, if you asked a certain person about their opinion about a political issue, for example, they will talk for hours without giving you a single sentence indicating their opinion. Is this indicative of a problem in such a person? Ff they are doing it voluntarily, then I don’t think that they have a problem!
In psychiatry, what such people do is described by a term called: “Circumstantiality”. Here is its definition according to Stedman’s Electronic Medical Dictionary (version 6.0, 2004):
A disturbance in the thought process, either voluntary or involuntary, in which one gives an excessive amount of detail (circumstances) that is often tangential, elaborate, and irrelevant, to avoid making a direct statement or answer to a question; observed in schizophrenia and in obsessional disorders. Cf. tangentiality.
Origin [L. circum-sto, pr. p. -stans, to stand around]
Reading the above definition, one can come up with two news; a bad news and a good news. The bad news is that circumstantiality is found in two psychiatric disorders. So, if you have it, does this mean that you have a psychiatric disorder? Here comes the good news: The good news is that you are not necessarily a psychiatric patient if you have “circumstantiality”. As you can read, this “disturbance” in the though process is “either voluntary or involuntary”.
During my Psychiatry rotation, some of my fellow students refused the idea that circumstantiality can be “voluntary”. They even disagreed more when I told them that not anyone can voluntarily answer questions with “circumstantiality”! But why?
Many people, especially politicians, use circumstantiality in order to avoid answering hard, embarrassing, rude, or whatever question they dislike. Haven’t you been put in a situation in which you were asked a hard question that you did not know an answer of and answering “I don’t know” would have made you stupid? What about being asked a question about your political, religious, social, etc., views that you can never answer truthfully without getting yourself in a lot of troubles?
Are you a person who can always answer “I don’t know”? Are you a person who can always declare all of his personal opinions? If your answer is yes to the “I don’t know” part, then I don’t think that you have ever been asked an embarrassing question, for example, in front of a large group of people. If you answered “yes” to the “personal opinion” part, then I think that your opinions are similar to what the majority of people around you think! Can you imagine the consequences of criticizing authorities in non-democratic countries? The consequences of talking negatively about other people’s beliefs? The consequences of telling your frank opinions about people that you know?
The following video is a great example how politicians can sometime be circumstantial in order to avoid answering hard questions. In this video, senior Hamas official Mahmood Al-Zahar, is asked a ‘hard question’ by one of the members of the audience during a BBC program. Should he be circumatantial or answer the question directly and criminalize the organization that he represents? Well, it is politics. This reminds me of a quote about lawyers by a “Patrick Murray”: “A Lawyer will do anything to win a case, sometimes he will even tell the truth”.
[N.B. I disagree with what Hamas TV broadcasted simply because it was preaching ‘hatred’ just like I disagree with the Israeli examples that are mentioned by Mr. Alzahar].
To some people, answering “I don’t know” and declaring “your personal opinions” frankly is the ethical choice in “all” situations. To me, however, this is not always a good choice. Sometimes, I think that it is your right to be circumstantial in order to avoid answering certain questions. Or, as the BBC interviewer said, answering questions in a “round-about” way.
Finally, I think that circumstantiality is important because it prevents you from lying!
There is no “sin” in being circumstantial, is there?