Rhetoric is everywhere in our life, ranging from music such as Mozart’s symphony No 40 In G minor, to our country’s political structure, such as Presidential candidate speeches. Rhetoric is important because you can’t understand content unless you notice the invisible things behind the words like how the argument is framed and the symbolic action of it. In my opinion, rhetoric is structured communication, the way you put the pieces of your argument together. It is a way of communicating clearly to get your point across.
So, what baffles me is the huge negative connotation rhetoric is given. As described in the first three chapters of Herrick’s The History and Theory of Rhetoric, rhetoric is often considered to be a persuasive deceptive art capable of granting someone power over another. Do I believe rhetoric to be persuasive? Absolutely. But in terms of deceptiveness and power, I don’t necessarily agree. Just because rhetoric can be used as a tool to achieve something you want, doesn’t make them your submissive. For example, a couple weekends ago I was in Bed Bath and Beyond buying a mattress pad. Bed Bath and Beyond always has so many coupons, but unfortunately I did not have one. By using rhetoric, I appealed to the cashier’s pathos by making her feel bad that I thought I had brought it with me, but had forgotten it with all the other stresses of moving in to a new apartment. Because of the friendly approach I had, she gave me the 20% discount I wanted. Does this mean I exerted power over her to get her to give me the coupon? I don’t see it that way. I see it as part of our natural life, our society. It is part of the way we live because how could we have any thoughts about anything without communication, counter-arguments, and persuasion.
Herrick states, in regard to rhetoric and democracy that “ One must be accustomed to tolerating even the most unusual opinions and points of view and even take a certain pleasure in their counter play; one must be willing to listen as to speak and as a listener one must be able more or less to appreciate the art being applied” (46). I think this means that when it comes to society, having others listen and accept our opinions or ideas and vice versa are natural, healthy, and necessary. Thinking a little deeper than the Bed Bath and Beyond example, what would life be if we did not argue with others over what we believed in? Life would be boring, monotone and we would all probably view things the same, whether it was “right” or “wrong” way. Although it may sound deceptive when Sophists say we argue things to “ make the worse claim seem better” (34), maybe the worse claim IS better to someone who is not our self. What one may see as true and right is objective to the person doing the believing. Each individual has our own thoughts and opinions and by choosing to see something a certain way does not mean we have been fooled.
Many of the negative connotations associated with rhetoric I think in fact should be associated with the people in society, and society itself instead. Why do we think we have power over someone by having him or her agree to an idea we have? What makes us think that because WE, or I, as an individual, decide to believe something that it is the Rhetor being powerful or deceptive in their claims that caused me to believe that way? What I mean is, it is each of us that decides how we will let the words we hear and the actions we see affect and shape us. Choosing what to believe in, stand for, and do is part of developing who we are as individuals. To me, rhetoric seems the natural way to do this.
Maybe as I continue to explore the ins and outs of rhetoric, I may be persuaded to see it like many scholars do. But for now, I stand apart.