Rhetoric: Forgotten Tools of Society Series

This article is a part of a series of the Lost Tools of Society: Listening, Conversations, and now, Rhetoric. Have you ever been compelled to sit for hours listening to an amazing speaker? Were you sitting on the edge of every single sentence? You can learn to do that. My most memorable experience of listening to a spellbound speaker was a woman named Donna VanLiere. This name might ring a bell as she is the author of the Christmas book, Christmas Shoes. Her eloquence, humor, frankness, and candor left me spellbound. I was laughing one minute only to practically be in tears the next. What makes her different than the plethora of speakers I have heard in the past? What was it that stole my attention? Donna VanLiere, with excellence in her speech, speaks beautifully.

Speaking beautifully is rhetoric on steroids. Rhetoric is essentially the art of persuasion, and to a certain degree, it must necessarily encompass beauty. What is missing in our everyday conversation is beauty and elegance in our speech.

It is interesting contemplating upon the truth that for the last 2500 years, there was a premium placed on teaching rhetoric. Granted, much of this was done in the academies, politics, and the church. Today, every citizen has an “education,” yet know not the beauty of rhetoric. It is not so much a glory to speak with excellence, as it is a shame to speak without it.

Aristotle championed the three aspects to Rhetoric (or persuasion).

1. Ethos
2. Pathos
3. Logos

Tools of Rhetoric

Ethos, being the most important of these tools is the ethical character of the person speaking. Is the orator trustworthy? If he is speaking about how to earn one million dollars, and yet has never achieved this himself, I would be wary of what he says. I don’t trust him fully as compared to someone who has earned one million dollars.

Pathos encompasses the motivating factor that arouses the passions and emotions of an individual to go in the direction the orator desires. One can have earned the respect of the crowd by revealing he did, in fact, earn one million dollars, but if he does not get the crowd to desire that ability as well, the audience will not care and rhetoric is thrown out the window. The speaker must find what motivates the crowd and arouse their passion and emotions as well.

Lastly, Logos is the reasoning and argument behind the presentation. Logos drives it all home to the bank and is the force behind the action.

It is not so much a glory to speak with excellence, as it is a shame to speak without it.

Of course, it is possible for a seasoned orator to get the crowd believing that which is not true. Rhetoric can be used for truth and justice as much as it can be used for deceiving. In spite of this though, rhetoric should not be seen as something bad. Just because it is persuasive and is used for both intellectual and practical means, does not necessitate that it is a vehicle for injustice. To know HOW to use rhetoric will help one think and to help one sift through the rhetoric of another. Let’s shape thinkers of today! Let us teach our children the beauty of excellence in speech through rhetoric.

Teaching Them Young

While small children cannot understand logic and reasoning, they can learn from a young age proper language. I am learning very quickly that I cannot talk to my 2 year old using certain words. I have caught myself far too many times replying to her gibberish with, “Huh?” Of course, the way it comes out ends up mimicking an I Love Lucy scene where Lucy contorts her body in a slang way, cocks her head to the side, lowers her jaw, and out honks, “HUH?” This form of language is not elegant and beautiful. I am teaching myself to reply back, “Pardon?” I desire to instill in my child that which is Good, True, AND Beautiful.

Rhetoric is simply learning the art of persuasion. Everyone engaged in conversation strives and yearns for their audience to understand where they are coming from and what they themselves desire. This is simply a good way to speak. What is missing in our everyday lives is a beautiful way of communicating ideas and inspiring listeners to act on that which is good, true, and beautiful.

Let us not be lazy in our efforts with our children. Let us learn how to communicate beautifully and pass it on to them. It is never too late to start.

For Further Discussion:

Classical Conversations teaches Rhetoric to Homeschoolers


The Reformed Conservative aims to reunite gentlemanly virtues with scholarly conversation. Standing in the great Reformed and conservative heritage of thinkers like Edmund Burke and Abraham Kuyper, we humbly seek to inject civility into an informed conversation, one article at a time, bringing clarity out of chaos.