Zeitgeist

I once took a course on classical rhetoric, which I am sure is a boring topic for many. However I found myself strangely beholden. At first I believed it was the material itself, but on reflection I realized it was the presentation style of my professor. He understood something that he didn’t teach explicitly, as the class was really one of composition and of writing style. It was his body language: his gestures, his movement, and his pauses when speaking.

There were three modes of persuasion that we were taught: ethos, pathos and logos. In other words the emotional appeal, appeal to the imagination or credibility of the author, and the logical consistency of the argument. I used to think I could influence opinions by the third option alone, but I’ve come to understand that people don’t have time for detailed, logical, arguments.

We live in an information rich era where brevity and amusement is valued above analysis and insight. The fastest and most powerful mode of persuasion is when it hits an emotional nerve. Emotion in this context could mean something that makes the audience sad, happy, angry or just plain amused. Frankly (and sadly) I have little skill in going that route, in my own writing or my speech.

If I am to be honest with myself, I need to reconsider that people are fickle, and fallible. To get the most out of life clear and effective communication is needed. This entails I must give into this zeitgeist and adapt, I need to change my paradigm, the frame I see the world through.

While I would love to reflect on lofty ideas and to reflect on deeper matters, the return on investment is lower than I would like. Which reminds me of a great influence on my life and thought, Stephen Covey, the author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If I was to take one core idea out of that book to heart, it would be the idea of the return on investment. This means devoting attention to the things that will bring the greatest personal good in the long run, AND the short run.

The stepping stone is the self, the character. I need to develop my character, but not just with the goal being self development out of a sense of self fulfillment, but in order to integrate into this world! I wish to become useful to someone, I want to be more than self-sufficient. I wish to serve and to be respected someday.