Rhetoric: Misunderstood, not just words

[Story and photo by Mike Foley, originally published in the BYU–Hawaii “electronic newsroom,” February 2, 2009]


Dr. Greg Clark, a BYU Provo professor and Associate Dean of the College of Humanities on exchange with BYU-Hawaii’s Dr. Ned Williams, said in the Honors colloquium on January 28 that the ancient art of rhetoric is “often terribly misunderstood” and extends beyond talking into many phases of our lives.

Clark, who earned a doctorate in the subject and first became interested in the Pacific islands when he taught at Samoana High School in American Samoa, explained that rhetoric began in ancient Athens in a “first attempt to try to govern a community [of all male property owners] by democracy… They were gathered together in a council of 500 people, selected not by election but by lottery. That assembly legislated the laws of Athens, and they were the courts.”

“They learned that decisions, whether they were judicial or legislative, had to be made by discussion. They had to come to agreement,” he said, “and in order for your side to win, you had to persuade people to see something the way you saw it.” He added this is no different today in trying give others “the opportunity to see things the way you see them, so that they might come to agree with you. Missionaries do it. We do it all the time — in a marriage, in a friendship. We’re always trying to influence other people.”

[Read more…]