SOMETIMES, SILENCE IS GOLDEN.
In 1992, I accepted an invitation to share my Great Wall adventure with eight hundred professional engineers in Houston, Texas.
Before my presentation---luncheon guests, all seated in the Ritz Carleton’s largest ballroom, were treated to a visual presentation, as more than two thousand photos of the Great Wall flashed continuously across the room’s multiple screens, officially documenting my seven-month journey. Quite appropriately, these Great Wall images were accompanied by authentic Chinese music.
Following my presentation, I invited audience members to ask questions. One after another, engineers from every state in America stepped forward to ask a variety of questions about my journey, such as: what I ate, what I thought, who I met, the language barrier, even questions about Chinese spiders and snakes.
Just when I thought I had answered every question, an attractive gentleman-- probably mid-forties-- walked to a microphone near the back of the ballroom. Smiling, he addressed me:
“Honey, I found your presentation quite impressive. You are a great speaker and I really enjoyed the photographs but----I have a major concern.” Surprised and not knowing what to expect, I held my breath.
“How could you have traveled that wall in 1990? It’s been documented that several years before 1990, President Ronald Reagan ordered Gorbachev to tear down that Wall and… he did!” At that moment, had a pin dropped, it would have sounded like a crow bar hitting the floor. Barely breathing, the audience waited for my response.
Wearing my best beauty queen smile, I leaned into the microphone and, in true southern style, delivered these words, “Honey, I’m really glad you enjoyed the slide show. I truly appreciate your concern and attention-to-detail.
Unfortunately, my dear, you are talking about the wrong wall in the wrong country. Bless you heart, honey, you are talking about the Berlin Wall…in Germany!!!” As the room echoed with thunderous applause, the well-dressed gentleman--looking like a hound dog with his tail between his legs-- scurried out of the Ballroom.
The following year, the National Engineers Association sent me a Christmas card. The association's president added a postscript:
“Thought you’d like to know--- the engineer who appeared “geographically challenged” after your Great Wall Presentation, resigned from our association.”
The president added: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt."