smith & worthington - introduction to rhetoric

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Unformatted text preview: Wonk: lMiaM’ Universiltf 20% “HMMCLEOOK: Miroducmh 'l’vilitbhc Qfmklhfiiz COURSE INTROD'UCTI‘ON ' An Introduction to Rhetoric: Public Speaking, Citizenship, and Action Cynthia D. Smith and David L. Worthington Why are we here? What can we gain from effective public speaking? This essay answers these questions by explaining the role of rhetorical action in a democracy and discussing the importance of credibility, passion, and solid reasoning to ethical speaking. It goes on to explain what “rhetoric” is and how a rhetorical perspective provides a particular View of the world. Finally, we introduce a fundamental concept of this course, the rhetorical situation, and discuss the many reasons you . 0(3) may have for wanting to engage in rhetorical action. QY\ WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? ‘ i b \ Q In the western democratic tradition the roots of democracy are generally traced " \\ (0 to the Athenians of the 4th century BCE. Classical Athens gave root to the / notion that a monarch need not govern people; citizens are perfectly competent X0 ,7 to administer their own government. 'While the Athenian experiment—and 00X \Q ' subsequent democratic efforts in the Roman Republic—were short lived, they X 9‘0 were important and enduring enough to influence the evolution of human thought, {1‘0 which spa'Wned the insurrection and liberation of the American colonies from Europe. Central to the vision of democracy in both classical and revolutionary models of democracy was the notion that citizens must be allowed and encouraged to participate in governance. Whether as direct participants (the Athenian model) or through elected representatives (the US. model) democratic citizenship requires an active, informed, principled, and argumentative citizenry. Perhaps the best place to start is a consideration of what democracy can be. For many, democracy is represented by the act of voting. While electing leaders is an important function in democracy, it is not the objective of democratic politics. Democracy is a rough and tumble practice, it demands that people disagree, argue, and compete for interest and constituencies. Put differently, democracy is aggressive and often times frustrating precisely because—unlike totalitarian and monarchical systems—it invites many different perspectives and suggests that the best way to determine our political course is in the marketplace of ideas. Democracy should also be recognized as much more broadly based than a focus on national or state politics allows. For example, in the coming years many of you will have to confront issues that are fundamental to educating your children, making neighborhoods safe, establishing businesses, and determining how to address local issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty. In each of these cases democratic involvement is at the core of community governance and places you ' in the role of decision maker, what we might best term citizen/speaker. COURSE INTRODUCTION 1 THE ROLE OF PUBLIC SPEECH If an active citizenry is at the heart of democratic practice, then citizens must have both the practical skill and political hiloso h to undertake overnance. This brief essay suggests th at the heart of citizenship is public speech, hich can only be properly understoo W en we rea ize t at suc speec as at least two functions. The first is utilitarian: we learn public speaking in order to be more effective speakers. Thus, the components “good” speeches are taught: these include audience analysis, imagining what is important and needs to be said (invention),organizing ideas into coherent and compelling arguments (organization), a ?L a r a 5 0 m 6 selecting language that 18 both appropriate and effective for getting your message ~ across, and learning the multitude of skills—such as vocal control, physical CO {7 C {3 F 775‘ Or movement, e e contact—associated with effective deliver . These are all essential , to productively getting your message across. Yet this is not enough. Ethical and effective public speaking also requires that we understand that there is more than the technical aspect of learning how to give good speeches and also understand that what is said influences the perspectives . N we use to interpret and make sense of the world. Thus, grounded in our anguage choices, the strategies we use to argue with those around us are two fundamental and potentially liberating concepts. First, language encapsulates how we understand . W" Put another way, the reason that adults teach young children that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is precisely because words can indeed wound and parents want to provide a shield to protect children from the barbs thrown their way. Consider the parent, teacher, or classmate who constantly calls a child “stupid” or “dumb”; gives the child consistent messages that she lacks intelligence (or athleticism, or the talent to sing, play an instrument, complete mathematical equations, or speak a foreign language) and that child soon constructs a vision of herself that excludes the potential for succeeding in these endeavors. Moreover, this young woman’s worldview will be negative, cynical, and unproductive. Thus, language choices affect how we see ourselves and how we see the world around us. The second concept linked to language strategies is their liberating potential. Once we begin to understand how word choices act as a frame around our worldview, we can start to understand how to use language more richly and effectively. The words we use influence how we interact with others, how others 7? see us, and how we see ourselves. Language choices reveal our ideology, desires and prejudices. The very fact that some words are taboo reveals the power and fear that words can evoke. Consequently, language is an ever-changing landscape that reveals social and cultural norms and problems. The evolution of language can be linked to the development and ideology of society itself. How we talk about an idea, person, or thing reveals how we think about that idea, person, or thing. If, in the case above, another adult intervenes and shows the student where her talents are located, then the debilitating stigma of “stupid” is recognized as incorrect and she can begin to develop a more productive view of herself and a more positive interpretation of the world she lives in. 21 22 COURSE INTRODUCTION CREDIBILITY, PASSION,AND REASONS FOR ACTION The promise of democratic life is the potential to fulfill our civic goals and aspirations. These might include better schools, better jobs, or living in a community that values healthy life-styles; these, however, are accomplished much more readily in a culture that embraces possibility over cynicism. Hence, the careful citizen/speaker must learn to discriminate between confidence and arrogance for it is no more productive to have an arrogant attitude than it is to have a negative one. Thus, as speakers we have to be aware of how others will interpret us. There are three basic concerns for the citizen/speaker: 1) our personal credibility, 2) the passion that we bring to our projects, and 3) reasons that compel an audience. One of the principal ways that our messages are conveyed is based on how our neighbors interpret our actions—our ethics. If audiences think us honest and ethical, as placing the good of the community ahead of our own interests, they will be much more likely to believe us than if we are perceived as concerned with selfish interests. Presidential approval ratings, product identification, and discussions of teacher competence all center on a consideration of the character—— the believability—of a person or product. Character is assigned based on the motives we—the public audience—believe inspire a speaker. From intimate relationships to presidential politics the character of others is a dynamic and constantly changing process. Confidence in others waxes and wanes based on how well others meet the ethical standards that society constructs. Hence, the lawyer who frees a wrongly convicted prisoner from death row may be seen as heroic; that same lawyer providing an aggressive defense of somebody we “know is guilty” often loses credibility. Thus, the first step to effective speechmaking is to be conscious of how you conduct yourself so audiences understand that ethics are genuinely important to you. Passion is a two-pronged tool for speakers. First, the speaker’s passion for his or her topic deeply affects how an audience responds. Speakers who lack passion themselves, have little potential for moving an audience to action. Similarly, the speaker who is clearly committed—and demonstrates this with careful attention to constructing and delivering a speech—has an immediate advantage in the eyes of an audience. The second prong of passion points to the mood of the audience. The speaker who can stir an audience’s emotions is much more likely to be accomplish his or her task. Of course, this must be grounded in an ethical approach to the topic. Adolf Hitler was a master at motivating passions, yet he is no model for emulation. More subtly, advertising seeks to persuade to dress, look, consume, and purchase in very narrow and specific ways. Will toothpaste X make you pretty and popular? Probably not, and even though we intuitively understand this, advertisers continue to suggest that it is the case; thus, there is at least the strong suspicion that such advertising is, at least to some degree, effective. Hence, while passion is essential to effective speaking, it must engage both the speaker and the audience in a critical examination of the passions it aims to stir. ’UflW-WHWWWWWWWCH“flawWWWW“WWUUUUUdiflflflflflaflfldflé COURSE INTRODUCTlON What reasons motivate audiences to action? It is important to understand that reasons for action are developed in the dynamic between speakers and audiences. Audiences may agree on action but do so for different reasons. Some people refuse to eat meat because they believe it unhealthy. For others, vegetarianism is a choice grounded in the belief that killing animals is wrong. Both groups accept the efficacy of a vegetarian lifestyle, yet each does so for different reasons. Thus, exploring the different reasons that people reach specific conclusions is central to effective advocacy. Reasons are linked to influences such as: experience, value systems, and culture; put another way, the reasons that motivate political and social change are linked to the world—View (or ideology) we use to examine the world we inhabit. Consequently, for audiences and speakers raised or living in the United States, the ideology of “Americanism” is often used as the foundational reason for action. The components of “Americanism” often have particular rhetorical salience in public discourse; words and phrases such as “freedom,” “liberty,” and acting in the name of “the people” all work as reasons to motivate an audience to action based on the belief that these principles are worth defending or advancing. The practice of democracy——and democracy both is a “practice” and demands that we “practice”—-is rooted in the ability of citizen/speakers to articulate and advance arguments for the betterment of society. These arguments ask us to draw on experience, values, and education in an effort to fulfill our obligations to the community. For in the end, engaging in democracy, being a part of the process, is what marks the potential for and promise of self—government. As we begin to engage in the rhetorical action that lies at the heart of democracy, it is important that we understand what a rhetorical perspective is, and why people engage in rhetoric in the first place. WHAT IS “RHEI'ORIC,” AND WHAT IS A “RHETORICAL PERSPECTIVE”? As Karlyn Kohrs Campbell explains in her article “A Rhetorical Perspective,” a perspective is a particular way of looking at the. world.1 When people say, “it’s a matter of perspective,” they mean that people have different ways of looking at the world based on their own life experiences. These experiences and interests cause us to focus on some things more than others, and thus to have a different interpretation of the world than someone whose experiences are different than ours. For instance, your perspective as' a college student differs from the perspective of your parents, grandparents, teachers, and other friends who may not be attending this university. A rhetorical perspective is a particular way of looking at the world that focuses on how persuasion works. It is concerned with how language and other symbolic resources (such as images, colors, and sounds) operate in society in order to influence the thoughts and behaviors ofhuman beings. In the context of a public speaking class, a rhetorical perspective focuses primarily on the use of reasoning and language by speakers in order to persuade audiences. A rhetorical perspective ‘Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs. “A Rhetorical Perspective” in The Rhetorical Act 2"" edition. Detroit: Wadsworth, 1996 (3—22). 23 i S 5% 53. a _ _ . WWWWmmmwmuu %‘ M9 is (W W? \( \CJ dz, (X 0 “,9 \9 \90 3k, (} t S? of, Q (\L , ab ,7 b. 05‘” \ Q} 24 COURSE INTRODUCTION is also concerned with social truths—those ideas we come to agree upon as a society through discussion and deliberation. A primary way key social issues are raised for discussion is through the act of public speaking in response to a specific rhetorical situation. RHETORICAL SITUATIONS Each time you prepare and deliver a public speech in this class or in your professional life, you are confronting what we will call a “rhetorical situation”. A rhetorical situation is one in which people’s beliefs and actions can he changed through discourse (i.e., speech, writing, or both). Decisions you make about the language, evidence, organization, and strategy of your public presentations are made in response to a specific rhetorical situation. The key components of a rhetorical situation are the speaker, exigence, audience, constraints and opportunities. In order to adapt well to these components (that is, to prepare a “fitting response” to them), the speaker must be knowledgeable about each element. When you complete this course, you Will be able to effectively analyze any rhetorical situation in order to prepare a fitting response. First, the speaker and his/her credibility (ethos) is a significant factor in the rhetorical situation. As a speaker, you want the audience to perceive you as intelligent, likeable, trustworthy, and. dynamic. All speeches respond to an ~7exigence, a problem that needs to be resolved. The audience for a speech consists #7 of those who will listen to the speech, and with whom the speaker wishes to create a sense of identification (common ground, shared experiences). The ideal audience for any given speech is an audience capable of taking action in order to create change. Finally, all speeches must confront constraints and opportunities. These are physical or psychological factors which limit or assist the speaker in adapting to the rhetorical situation. A poor sound system or small, sweltering room are examples of physical constraints, while an audience’s preconceptions and biases are examples of psychological constraints. Although these are examples that limit the speaker, opportunities also exist. An audience’s biases may work in favor of the speaker. A speaker may be a famous person who the audience naturally trusts and admires. In both cases, these are opportunities that assist the speaker in reaching her communication goals. A “fitting response” to a specific rhetorical situation is one which does its best to appropriately adapt to the exigence, audience, and constraints. REASONS FOR RHETORICAL ACTION In any given rhetorical situation, individuals or groups will have many reasons to communicate with others. Because a rhetorical perspective focuses on how persuasion works, we’ll focus here on reasons you might want to influence others. As you read on, you will notice that these reasons are not entirely separate from one another. That is, most speeches will embody more than one reason for rhetorical action. ...
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