Communication is always persuasive.
Say what others mean and mean what others say. Or something like that.
Something growing more and more relevant to talk about is what words really mean, and what we mean when saying them. Language is absolutely contextual, and small differences can make for great implications. It’s been seen no less in recent political developments.
In my opinion, the most important part of our language and the use of it is how it shapes our actions and our reality. Language holds immense power over us, just because of the relation between the spoken word and action. After Trump was elected president, I read numerous stories of people of colour being harassed in new, more brutal ways by people who they wouldn’t ever have thought to have any opinions regarding their skin colour. The language used by Trump and many of his supporters changed the behaviour of some of the more radical supporters.
Principally, this goes for your self-talk as well. I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I speak to myself lately, as I used to talk myself up like I was Kanye and nowadays find my language to be more of Eeyore’s. The actions you take in the shared reality is determined by the language you use when talking to yourself just as much as the actions you take will impact the self-talk.
With these effects that language has, there should be more caution taken as to how we use the language we’ve got. Both when it comes to words used, but also as to when, how and to whom the words are spoken.
Words often hold so much more information than we usually give them credit for. All our words are developed for a specific purpose and many of them have a marvellous background that can give insights to what the word meant in the context that it was created in. One recent example where I was happily surprised was after a conversation with a friend and colleague. We’d been debating whether or not competition could be useful in the movement we are developing, going from best in the world to best for the world.
His point of view was that competition is most definitely a product and a foundational pillar of best in the world, as in order to determine who’s the best one needs to compete for that spot. My point was that competition has a greater meaning to it, as I found it hard to believe that it was invented with the single purpose of producing a winner. I brought up all of the benefits with competition, as motivation for training and becoming better, the fun of it and a measurement of development over time. He wasn’t convinced, and rightfully so, I’d say. So I looked in to the origins of the word.
Turns out, competition stems from a Latin word, Competere, meaning roughly ‘seek together’ or ‘come together’. The original sense was for people to strive for something and doing it together. The phrase was later made in to the English compete which at that point had a much more hostile tone. In the original sense, competition had a focus on the process of becoming better rather than establishing superiority over someone, the result.
Looking in to words like this can be very rewarding as it gives one a richer understanding not only of the current meaning of a word or concept, but also the development leading up to that definition. It also gives you the possibility to shape the word and the concept to work for you rather than the other way around.
As to the how of words, rhetoric is a great place to start. I recently read this, which is a fine point to start at:
“Classic rhetoric according to Aristotle is activity with words, and shall always be seen as an ethical act because of that the speaker can choose what to say — as well as the listener value the content of what was said.”
The key takeaway, at least when I read this, is “activity with words”. Not just spoken word. Not just written word. Not just the word itself. Any activity, and all of that activity, with words is a rhetoric act. To me, that was an eyeopener as I’ve been thinking of rhetoric as knowledge of how to speak in front of large audiences.
We’re all having activity with words, almost all the time. As soon as we interact with each other, we’re engaged in an activity with words. That means we’re all rhetoricians.
Words often hold so much more information than we usually give them credit for. All our words are developed for a specific purpose and many of them have a marvellous background that can give insights to what the word meant in the context that it was created in.
Another dimension to rhetoric that might be interesting to bring up in this context is that the art was discovered in pursuit of finding means to persuade other people. It has been stated that every rhetoric act has a persuasive dimension to it, which in turn means that every time we use words, we try to persuade someone.
In the context of words, this is something I find important, as the usage of words will have a persuasive impact on other people. The words we choose to use in each and every context is going to have different kinds of impacts. Not only are the words going to be persuasive, but in the process of using them, we might persuade someone of the meaning the word or concept holds. The complexity of communication has suddenly increased heavily.
Rather than only talking about what words mean, we’d need to talk about why we use words, and why we communicate. The engagement in activities with words need to be clearly defined for us to start digging in to any of these questions.
We had a discussion on word use in my gymnasium class. Our English teacher was upset about the choice of words from some of my classmates, and especially the word faggot was discussed. Our teacher asked him of why he used a slang for homosexual men as a word of abuse. His response was that faggot, in his point of view, wasn’t at all a reference to homosexual people, it meant something like “bundle of sticks”. His point was that he meant no-one harm by saying it, he just liked the word.
My classmate is a great rhetorician, and can persuade almost anyone to believe anything. And he did so intentionally as he understood the power the activity with words held in the shared space that we have.
What the story shows is that the origin of a word might be used as a leverage in either way. The one who knows about the language we share holds a lot of power in the interactions we share. We usually say that 70% of our communication comes from other things than the sheer language we use, so body language, facial expressions and the way we use our voice are all important parts of our communicative abilities. But saying 70% of our communication comes from other things than the language we use doesn’t mean that 70% of the power and especially persuasive power comes from anything else than our words.
So much go in to our communication and the persuasive power of our communication. I’m more and more convinced that our interactions are a game in which rhetorics is the winning strategy. Learning to use all of ones communicative features to come out on top of that game might be very useful to many of us, as the communication we share in many cases dictates the reality that we get to live in. Being in control over, or at least understanding how you can affect every activity with words you encounter is always going to play in your favour.
That goes for both the communication you have with yourself and for the communication you share with others. Your self talk is persuasive as well as your other people talk. That’s part of why all of this is so important, rhetoric isn’t just about getting leverage in our shared reality, it’s just as much about getting leverage on yourself. Remember, every activity with words is a persuasive activity.