Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Lost Art of Rhetoric

As part of my English degree, I was required to take a course on Rhetoric. The professor had us review speeches and writings from the past and analyze whether or not they were effective. I took it as a quick summer class and really haven't thought much about it - until recently. defines rhetoric as "the ability to use language effectively; the art of making persuasive speeches." After watching clips of town hall meetings and the responses from our elected officials, I wonder if more could have been achieved with better rhetoric.

I understand many people are filled with concern for America and the direction it appears to be going in (for example: years of debt passed on to our children and grandchildren). I am as well. I also understand people are angry because they feel their voices are not being heard, or worse, ignored, by our politicians. I feel that way, too. We cannot give in though to the impulse of our anger. It is not effective speech when we confront our politicians with name-calling and finger-pointing. Once that starts, the politician will be offended enough not to listen. It is more effective to approach them in a calm manner and present them with the facts and concerns.

Now, as far as the politicians are concerned: they are not winning people over with their name-calling either. Referring to their constituents who disagree with them as "mobs" or "astroturf" or "un-American" only stokes the anger a lot of people are feeling. They are not a doing a good job of presenting the facts to Americans and calming their fears.

So, what can we do? Gather facts and write your representatives and senators with your concerns. Treat them as you would want to be treated - with respect. Use your right to protest - but peacefully. Also, vote. Finally, pray. Pray for our elected officials. Pray they will open their ears to their constituents and that they will turn away from corruption and selfish-deeds.

I wonder when history and rhetoric courses look back at this moment in time, if they will find any inspiring speeches spoken by a true leader ready to work with Americans instead of against them.


Anonymous said...

Well, said, Jo. Thanks for the post.


smithsk said...

Very good post, Joanna.

I go back to the Declaration of Independence and read after the colonists' grievances are listed against the British government: "In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms..."

The key word is "humble" here.

You very much implied that in your post about addressing our concerns and grievances.

You and the founding fathers are in agreement.


Joanna said...

Thank you for your comments. Susan: thank you also for the reminder of the phrasing in the Declaration of Independence.

Denise Miller Holmes said...

When speaking of rhetoric, John F. Kennedy comes to mind. Kennedy used powerful language to lead. Our leaders today seem only interested in forcing people to act in certain ways. True leadership inspires the nation to CHOOSE to act constructively for a united purpose. We need more inspiration and true leadership in this nation.

Joanna said...

Denise: I completely agree with you. I thought of JFK when I wrote this, along with our forefathers who founded and fought for this country. Thank you for your comment.