Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Rhetoric of Love

I'm graduating from college in April with my BA in English. (The Broadway play Avenue Q discusses such an event briefly in song form. The lyrics are here if you're interested in their viewpoint on the usefulness of a BA in English.)
Graduation, of course, brings on the stress of adult life. Turns out the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" isn't rhetorical; they (who are they exactly?) actually want and claim to need an answer. Well I've decided to stave off the particular stress of answering that question straight away by staying in school. (Maybe I just took Mr. T's advice too literally as a child) As a matter of course I've applied to several graduate schools and am currently waiting to hear back from them. I have heard from Arizona State (denied) and BYU (accepted) but am still waiting for news from Iowa State, Arizona, and Penn State.
I wanna study rhetoric.
I've known that I want to study rhetoric for a while now and as a result I see tie-ins to rhetoric all over the place. I could go on about how rhetoric is all around us and we are constant subjects and practitioners of rhetoric whether we recognize it or not, but instead I just want to share recent unexpected find. Today, as I studied my scriptures, I found the Lord's injunction about effective rhetoric:
"no power or influence can or ought to be maintained [except] by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; . . . without hypocrisy, and without guile" (D&C 121:41–42; emphasis added).
The Classical (read that Greek and Roman) and neo-Classical schools of rhetoric taught many specific tricks on being persuasive and they analyzed in depth why some arguments were more persuasive than others in order to emulate them. Even today there are manuals devoted to careful and strategic crafting of rhetorically-sound language. While there is nothing inherently wrong with learning how to communicate more effectively and more persuasively--if there were, I would be sinning in my desire to learn and teach rhetoric--the Lord, as per usual, taught how to practice a higher form of rhetoric. That of course is love. Genuine love and care for someone is perhaps the most effective form of persuasion that you can hope for. While he is talking specifically about how to use the priesthood effectively and righteously, the same applies to how to use rhetoric most effectively and righteously.
The ethical use of rhetoric is one of the big issues that faces rhetoric. Rhetoric, when used irresponsibly can be a powerful tool for evil. (See Hitler) In fact, the word itself has a quite negative connotation. Most people are like my roommate Chad who, when he hears the word rhetoric, says, "Damn politicians." This question of the ethicalness of rhetoric would be solved, and rhetoric would be made more effective, if carried out with love. As with most things, charity is the answer. Jesus said so.
How different the world would be if love was the underlying principle and motivation for all that we do.

1 comment:

  1. Someone once said, "Whatever the question . . . love is the answer." I believe it.