Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Drama at Gate 67

(Slightly Adapted From Thomas S. Monson, "The Spirit of the Season," Christmas Devotional 2009.)

Many years ago, in the congested Atlanta, Georgia Airport in December of 1970, thousands of weary travelers were stranded because an ice storm had seriously delayed air travel, and these people were trying to get wherever they most wanted to be for Christmas--most likely home.

As the midnight hour tolled, unhappy passengers clustered around ticket counters, conferring anxiously with agents whose cheerfulness had long since evaporated. They, too, wanted to be home. A few people managed to doze in uncomfortable seats. Others gathered at the newsstands to thumb silently through paperback books.

If there was a common bond among this diverse throng, it was loneliness--pervasive, inescapable, suffocating loneliness. But airport decorum required that each traveler maintain his or her invisible barrier against all the others. Better to be lonely than to be involved, which inevitably meant listening to the complaints of gloomy and disheartened fellow travelers.

The fact of the matter was that there were more passengers than there were available seats on any of the planes. And, when an occasional plane managed to break out, more travelers stayed behind than made it aboard. The words "Standby," "Reservation confirmed," and "First-class passenger" settled priorities and bespoke money, power, influence, foresight--or the lack thereof.

Gate 67 was a microcosm of the whole cavernous airport. Scarcely more than a glassed-in cubicle, it was jammed with travelers hoping to fly to New Orleans, Dallas, and points west. Except for the fortunate few traveling in pairs, there was little conversation. A salesman stared absently into space, as if resigned. A young mother cradled an infant in her arms, gently rocking in a vain effort to soothe the soft whimpering.

Then there was a man in a finely tailored grey flannel suit who somehow seemed impervious to the collective suffering. There was a certain indifference about his manner. He was absorbed in paperwork--figuring the year-end corporate profits, perhaps. A nerve-frayed traveler sitting nearby, observing this busy man, might have identified him as an Ebenezer Scrooge. 

Suddenly, the relative silence was broken by a commotion as a young man in military uniform, no more than 19 years old, conversed animatedly with the desk agent. The boy held a low-priority ticket. He pleaded with the agent to help him get to New Orleans so that he could take the bus to the obscure Louisiana village he called home.

The agent wearily told him the prospects were poor for the next 24 hours, maybe longer. The boy grew frantic. Immediately after Christmas his unit was to be sent to Vietnam--where at that time war was raging--and if he didn't make this flight, he might never again spend Christmas at home. Even the businessman in the grey flannel suit looked up from his cryptic computations to show a guarded interest. The agent clearly was moved, even a bit embarrassed. But he could only offer sympathy--not hope. The boy stood at the departure desk, casting anxious looks around the crowded room as if seeking just one friendly face.

Finally, the agent announced that the flight was ready for boarding. The travelers, who had been waiting long hours, heaved themselves up, gathered their belongings, and shuffled down the small corridor to the waiting aircraft: twenty, thirty, a hundred--until there were no more seats. The agent turned to the frantic young soldier and shrugged.

Inexplicably, the businessman had lingered behind. Now he stepped forward. "I have a confirmed ticket," he quietly told the agent. "I'd like to give my seat to this young man." The agent stared incredulously; then he motioned to the soldier. Unable to speak, tears streaming down his face, the boy in olive drab shook hands with the man in the gray flannel suit, who simply murmured, "Good luck. Have a fine Christmas. Good luck."

As the plane door closed and the engines began their rising whine, the businessman turned away, clutching his briefcase, and trudged toward the all-night restaurant.

No more than a few among the thousands stranded there at the Atlanta airport witnessed the drama at Gate 67. But for those who did, the sullenness, the frustration, the hostility--all dissolved into a glow. That act of love and kindness between strangers had brought the spirit of Christmas into their hearts. 

The lights of the departing plane blinked, starlike, as the craft moved off into the darkness. The infant slept silently now in the lap of the young mother. Perhaps another flight would be leaving before many more hours. But those who witnessed the interchange were less impatient. The glow lingered, gently, pervasively, in that small glass and plastic stable at Gate 67.

President Monson then writes,
My brothers and sisters, finding the real joy of the season comes not in the hurrying and the scurrying to get more done or in the purchasing of obligatory gifts. Real joy comes as we show the love and compassion inspired by the Savior of the World, who said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . . ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40).

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Brief Note on The Rent Collector

I recently finished this book for the third time. It's about a woman named Sang Ly who lives with her husband and constantly-ill son in a garbage dumb in Cambodia. Even though life is challenging for them (to say the least), Sang Ly begins to learn to read so that she can help her family. And the more she reads, the more she discovers the value of literature, the inner goodness of most people (even those who may at first seem to be our enemies), and, above all, hope.

I highly recommend it.

I found this image on

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Short Story of Kindness, Told by a Dentist in December

Here is a brief story that was written a handful of years ago that illustrates a simple act of kindness around Christmastime. I like it because it motivates me to do something nice for someone else:

"I am a dentist by profession. [Last December], my receptionist informed me that an acquaintance of hers was coming into my office. She had problems with two of her teeth. She knew this woman and told me of her circumstances. The woman carried many burdens. The family business, which she ran, was doing poorly, and the family was three months behind in paying rent. They had five children, many grown into adulthood, but all had moved back home because of difficult personal circumstances. By sheer force of will, she had kept her family together for some time. Now two teeth were broken.

"The woman arrived for her appointment and explained about her dental problem. She asked if I would allow her to pay her bill over time. She explained to me that her family had experienced several financial reversals and were just recently starting to pay some overdue bills.

"I assured her that her credit was good with me. She asked if I could repair just one of the two broken teeth at that time. I assured her that I could, and we began.

"Since I had the time, I repaired both teeth, for which she was grateful. When the work was completed, . . . I told her that if she would not be offended, I should like to make a Christmas present of the dental work, for which there would be no bill. She was astonished. I could sense the depth of the stress and strain she had carried, as uncontrollable tears of gratitude gushed forth due to a small, simple act of kindness. It must have been years since someone showed her some little favor. Not able to speak, she made her way out.

"Both my assistant and receptionist were so moved by her reaction that they also [shed] tears and could hardly speak. I, on the other hand, was doubly glad. One part, in seeing such a simple act have such a happy effect on another. And the second part, for once in my life having a patient in my office crying for joy and not for pain! 

"To you, my very best wishes.


"A brother in the gospel."

(From Thomas S. Monson, "What is Christmas?" Liahona, Dec. 1998, 4-5.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Story from the Book of Mormon about a Group of Refugees

I woke up this morning with this story on my mind, so I wrote about it. Now I'm sharing it because I hope it might be beneficial to someone.

Before we get to the story, we'll need a bit of context. And because I'm summarizing many chapters of a fairly complex narrative, I've simplified much of it.

In this story, there are 2 general groups of people: The Lamanites and the Nephites. 

Over a period of many generations, the Lamanites taught their children to hate the Nephites, so the Lamanites felt justified murdering and plundering the Nephites whenever they had the chance. And while the Nephites would often defend themselves, at this time, they did not go on the offensive against the Lamanites. Many Nephites also regarded the Lamanites as enemies, and some didn't think there were any good Lamanites (see Alma 26:23-26). But, a Nephite named Ammon had compassion on those who he believed should have been (and were!) his brothers and sisters, so he went with a few of his friends to teach the Lamanites about God and Jesus Christ. 

One somewhat large group of Lamanites listened to the messages of Ammon and his friends. This group had a change of heart and felt deep sorrow for the many murders they had committed. So they dug a huge pit, buried their swords and weapons of war, and made a covenant with God that they would never again shed blood. Then, to distinguish themselves, both from others and from their own past, this group took upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehies. 

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies began to be persecuted by the Lamanites and by another group, called the Amalekites, who are described as apostate Nephites. The Amalekites, because of their hatred, incited the rest of the Lamanites to become angry with, to attack, and to destroy the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.

In the following excerpt from from Alma 27The Anti-Nephi-Lehies seem to me to be a group of refugees. They are about to be destroyed by the Lamanites, but they're hesitant to ask the Nephites for protection because know that they had once done many wrongs to the Nephites:

"Now when Ammon and his brethren saw this work of destruction among those whom they so dearly beloved, and among those who had so dearly beloved them . . . they were moved with compassion, and they said unto the king [of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies]:

"Let us gather together this people of the Lord, and let us go down to the land of Zarahemla to our brethren the Nephites, and flee out of the hands of our enemies, that we be not destroyed.
"But the king said unto them: Behold, the Nephites will destroy us, because of the many murders and sins we have committed against them.
"And Ammon said: I will go and inquire of the Lord, and if he say unto us, go down unto our brethren, will ye go?
"And the king said unto him: Yea, if the Lord saith unto us go, we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them.
"But Ammon said unto him: It is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should be any slaves among them; therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.
"But the king said unto him: Inquire of the Lord, and if he saith unto us go, we will go; otherwise we will perish in the land.
"And it came to pass that Ammon went and inquired of the Lord, and the Lord said unto him:
"Get this people out of this land, that they perish not; for Satan has great hold on the hearts of the Amalekites, who do stir up the Lamanites to anger against their brethren to slay them; therefore get thee out of this land; and blessed are this people in this generation, for I will preserve them.
"And now it came to pass that Ammon went and told the king all the words which the Lord had said unto him.
"And they gathered together all their people, yea, all the people of the Lord, and did gather together all their flocks and herds, and departed out of the land, and came into the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, and came over near the borders of the land.
"And it came to pass that Ammon said unto them: Behold, I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla, and ye shall remain here until we return; and we will try the hearts of our brethren, whether they will that ye shall come into their land.
. . .
"And now it came to pass that Alma conducted his brethren back to the land of Zarahemla; even to his own house. And they went and told the chief judge all the things that had happened unto them in the land of Nephi, among their brethren, the Lamanites.
"And it came to pass that the chief judge sent a proclamation throughout all the land, desiring the voice of the people concerning the admitting their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.
"And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.
"And behold, we will set our armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi, that we may protect our brethren in the land Jershon; and this we do for our brethren, on account of their fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin; and this their great fear came because of their sore repentance which they had, on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.
"And now behold, this will we do unto our brethren, that they may inherit the land Jershon; and we will guard them from their enemies with our armies, on condition that they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies.
"Now, it came to pass that when Ammon had heard this, he returned to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, and also Alma with him, into the wilderness, where they had pitched their tents, and made known unto them all these things. . . .
"And it came to pass that it did cause great joy among them. And they went down into the land of Jershon, and took possession of the land of Jershon; and they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after.
"And they were among the people of Nephi, and also numbered among the people who were of the church of God. And they were also distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end.
"And they did look upon shedding the blood of their brethren with the greatest abhorrence; and they never could be prevailed upon to take up arms against their brethren; and they never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore, death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it.
. . .
"And thus they were a zealous and beloved people, a highly favored people of the Lord.
(Note that the words "zeal" and "zealousness" in these passages refer to great energy and enthusiasm. They are in no way associated with fanaticism or extremism.)
I find this story inspiring because while neither party was perfect, it seems to me that the Nephites treated the Anti-Nephi-Lehies as they would have liked to have been treated if they had been in a similar situation--like fellow human beings. The Nephites, though they may not have liked everything about the other party, when they learned of the plight of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, were still persuaded to help the Anti-Nephi-Lehies. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies, on the other hand, were hesitant to ask the Nephites for assistance--they knew they had been and would continue to be a burden to people who had done nothing to them. But they still asked. And they received the help they needed. 

I wonder if we could even say that the Anti-Nephi-Lehies gave the Nephites an opportunity to help them--an opportunity that many of the Nephites perhaps needed. What I mean is I wonder if the Nephites needed to learn something about both the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and also also about themselves. They, at least the ones who saw the Lamanites as evil, needed to learn that the Lamanites weren't evil--they were just mistaken. Not only that, but the Nephites who had seen the Lamanites as evil were also mistaken. Both parties were to some degree mistaken because of the stories they had been telling themselves about the other party over many generations. Though there were extremes on both sides, there were also normal people--human beings--on both sides, people who were just trying to do the best they could with what they had. People who, when they received greater light and knowledge than they then had, chose willingly, even enthusiastically, to embrace it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Turning on the Car and Knowing that the Car is Running

I stand at the door with my keys in my hand. Then, when I find the right key, I put it in the door and turn my wrist to unlock it. I pull the key out, open the door, sit down in the car seat, then shut the door. Then comes the moment of truth. I take the key and put it in the ignition, but before I turn my wrist I hesitate: will this work? It's worked every time before, but what about this time? How do I know it will work? Will this small action of mine actually start a chain of events that will turn on the car?

I hope that it will, so I act in accordance with my beliefs: I turn my wrist and, sure enough, the car starts. 

Now, as I sit here in the car seat and listen to the engine, I wonder what goes on under the hood. I'm not a car expert, and I can't even see under the hood--I mean, I'm sitting in the driver's seat, and the hood is closed. So of course I can't see the engine or any thing else that's going on. But I can hear it, and I can feel it. So, even though I can't see what's going on, I still say that I know that the whole system is working. I know that my car is running, but that doesn't mean that I have a perfect knowledge of the entire car--actually, I don't need a complete and full knowledge of the entire system to know that it works. 

And besides--can I even have a full and perfect knowledge? Isn't there even something that the experts themselves don't know and about which they debate? Who are these experts? Well, they're human, just like me. If I wanted to, I could be like one of them, but it would take a lot of work on my part, a lot of learning, and a lot of training. But I could do it, if I wanted to.

But how do I know that? Well, it seems obvious--though I must admit that even on this point I don't have a perfect knowledge. Yet my belief in that potential becomes a partial knowledge as I continue to act on it. And as I act, my knowledge grows greater and greater until it becomes that of an expert. Though even as an "expert," I will still have much to learn. 

There's nothing confusing about any of this.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Story about a Man who Went on a Cruise

This story comes from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf's talk, "Your Potential, Your Privilege." President Uchtdorf is second councilor in the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I appreciate this talk because it persuades me to not want to take for granted the gifts I've been given. Instead, however, I want to maximize my full potential, get to work, and do my very best. I like it. :)
Here is the story:
There once was a man whose lifelong dream was to board a cruise ship and sail the Mediterranean Sea. He dreamed of walking the streets of Rome, Athens, and Istanbul. He saved every penny until he had enough for his passage. Since money was tight, he brought an extra suitcase filled with cans of beans, boxes of crackers, and bags of powdered lemonade, and that is what he lived on every day.
He would have loved to take part in the many activities offered on the ship—working out in the gym, playing miniature golf, and swimming in the pool. He envied those who went to movies, shows, and cultural presentations. And, oh, how he yearned for only a taste of the amazing food he saw on the ship—every meal appeared to be a feast! But the man wanted to spend so very little money that he didn’t participate in any of these. He was able to see the cities he had longed to visit, but for the most part of the journey, he stayed in his cabin and ate only his humble food. 
On the last day of the cruise, a crew member asked him which of the farewell parties he would be attending. It was then that the man learned that not only the farewell party but almost everything on board the cruise ship—the food, the entertainment, all the activities—had been included in the price of his ticket. Too late the man realized that he had been living far beneath his privileges. (Uchtdorf, "Your Potential, Your Privilege," April 2011.
Isn't that interesting? Now let's get busy and do our very best with all we've been given!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Ethics of Engagement: User-Centered Design and Rhetorical Methodology," A Brief Summary and Notes

Michael J. Salvo writes that in technical communication, there has been a shift of observing users to participating with them. This article investigates 3 examples of participatory design: Pelle Ehn’s participatory design method, Roger Whitehouse’s design of tactile signage for blind users, and the design of an online writing program.

“Participatory design” is better than “user-centered design” because “participatory design” is more dialogic, which means it’s more focused on the relationship between designer and user instead of just the user (or just the designer). [But why is this article subtitled “User-Centered Design”?]

Some key terms in this article are as follows:
  • Democratic workplace
  • Two-way communication
  • Collaboration
  • Interaction
  • Negotiation
  • User-collaborators

Dialogic ethics, a two-way way of thinking, comes from Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, in which Buber denounces the objectification of the human. When we treat one another as means, he says, we create an I-to-it relationship, whereas when we treat one another as ends, we create an I-to-you relationship, or an I-Thou relationship. We should always treat one another as human beings, and that is a dialogic relationship. Salvo writes, “When one engages another person as an individual, as a person, one recognizes the humanity of the other. This recognition makes it possible to know the other’s needs, which is the point of participatory design: to know from the other’s perspective what is needed to improve the usability of the design” (276).

Mikhail Bakhtin is interested in this concept, too, from a linguistic standpoint. And where Bakhtin is in linguistics, Emmanuel Levinas (Buber’s student) is concerned with identity when he says that the ethical self is one’s ability to see the humanity in others. One should see the self in the other and the other in the self. [That reminds me of Burke's “Four Master Tropes,” as well as Robert Solomon's philosophical work about human emotion emotions.]

When we author actions, we become responsible for them (276). Participatory design is to know the other’s needs and to see from their perspective.

[Note here the great irony of a poorly written article or book: it assumes authority by virtue of being written, but if it is poorly written, then it contradicts itself! That’s was the irony that Plato called attention to when he was writing in the Phaedrus!]

Dialogic ethics thus becomes a counter-statement to Katz’s ethic of expediency. In short, a dialogue is listening and speaking. Both. Not just one. For all participants. Design should work the same way. Thus, users ultimately should have a hand in design (288). 

[I wonder if the amount of listening which needs to be done is proportional to a person’s ultimate ethos. Listening is receiving and learning. Speaking is teaching and presenting and showing. Speaking is promoting something.
There are times when we should listen more than we speak and other times when we should speak more than we listen. It depends on the situation, but the bottom line here is that we treat others as agents and not objects. What if others are treating us as objects? Then what? Then we have a duty to treat ourselves as an agent and get out of there. Also, we shouldn’t unduly silence ourselves as long as we say what is good.]

From Michael J. Salvo, “Ethics of Engagement: User‐Centered Design and Rhetorical Methodology,” Technical Communication Quarterly 10.3 (2001): 273‐290.

Berlin's "Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class," A Brief Summary and Notes

Teaching writing and rhetoric is teaching a certain kind of ideology. “Ideology is . . . inscribed in language practices, entering all features of our experience” (669, I’m using Susan Miller’s edited collection, The Norton Book of Composition Studies, 2009). How and what we teach makes assumptions that we can’t get away from, and each of the following 3 ways of teaching promotes a different ideology: cognitive rhetoric, expressionistic rhetoric, and social-epistemic rhetoric.

Cognitive rhetoric, which might be the continuation of current-traditional rhetoric, claims to be scientific. It has been based on psychology and emphasizes the real and the rational. Berlin cites Flower and Hayes as an example and states that this rhetoric “refuses the ideological question” because of its basis on science (671-672). I think Berlin also say that it is to some degree capitalistic.

Expressionistic rhetoric emphasizes the speaker and is therefore elitist. In this section, Berlin cites Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Carl Jung. Thus, power lies in the individual. He then cites Peter Elbow and Donald Murray. Expressionistic rhetoric emphasizes talk about “Me.” Expressionistic is a response to and critique of capitalism and scientism, though the agencies of corporate capitalism easily use this one to their advantage, too.

Social-epistemic Rhetoric is the last one discussed in this essay, and Berlin cites Kenneth Burke as an example. From this perspective, the real is a relationship between people, but that doesn’t make everything relative. We make our own histories. Berlin then cites Ira Shor and Karl Marx.

In conclusion, I’d like to cite two of what I think are Berlin’s most important statements. First, “[A] way of teaching is never innocent. Every pedagogy is imbricated in ideology, in a set of tacit assumptions about what is real, what is good, what is possible, and how power ought to be distributed” (682).

Finally, “A rhetoric cannot escape the ideological question, and to ignore this is to fail our responsibilities as teachers and as citizens” (682).

[When I read all this, it seems to me that if Berlin is correct, then we could take his logic forward and assume that, to some degree, every action is also an argument and every way of doing something assumes some particular way of thinking that would "give evidence" to the action. I'm suddenly reminded of Wayne Booth's book, Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, but now is not the time to take a closer look at that.]

From Berlin, J. A. (1988). Rhetoric and ideology in the writing class. College English (50) 5, 477‐494.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kierkegaard Talks about Love

Imagine two artists:
One travels the world over, searching for a human subject worthy of his skill as a painter of portraits. But so exacting are his standards and so fastidious his judgment that he has yet to discover a single person worthy of his efforts. Every potential subject is marred by some disqualifying flaw.
The second artist, on the other hand, has no special admiration for his own skill. Consequently, he never things to look beyond his immediate circle of neighbors for his subjects. Nevertheless, he has yet to find a face without something beautiful in it, something eminently worthy to be portrayed.
Wouldn't this indicate that the second painter is the real artist? Yes--because this second one "brings a certain something" that enables him or her to find in others that which is worthy to paint. The other painter could not find anything worthy to paint anywhere in the world because he or she did not bring this "certain something." 
So it is with love, says Kierkegaard. Those who think they can love only the people they prefer do not love at all. Love discovers truths about individuals--any individuals--that others cannot see (see Soren Kierkegaard, Works of Love [New York: Harper and Row, 1962], 156-157).
[The above four paragraphs are slightly adapted from C. Terry Warner, Bonds That Make Us Free pages 306-307. C. Terry Warner also founded The Arbinger Institute, which wrote Leadership and Self Deception, The Anatomy of Peace, and The Outward Mindset.]

I found this image on

Monday, September 28, 2015

Rude, "Mapping the Research Questions in Technical Communication," A Brief Note

While Technical Communication is commonly defined as a practice and not a field of research, any well-established field should have general research questions. So, what are the research questions in the field of Technical Communication? This is a difficult question because the field is a hybrid of many different fields, such as rhetoric, design, speech, psychology, education, computer science, etc. But questions are important, and good questions generate more questions.

To find the answer, Rude looks at 109 books, analyzing them on the large-scale, to see what questions the field is asking. Rude believes that Technical Communication’s main question is this: how do texts (defined broadly) mediate knowledge, values, and action in social and professional contexts?

From this question, Rude examines 4 related questions that divide the field into 4 main areas (though some of the questions can be in more than one area):
Questions of
  • Disciplinarity: Who are we? Why are we here? What is our history, and what is our future?
  • Pedagogy: What should we teach and how?
  • Practice: How should texts be ethical and effective? What are the best practices?
  • Social Change: How do texts function as agents of knowledge making, action, and change?

Much energy has already gone to pedagogy and practice, but “a sustainable academic field is built on research questions that develop knowledge” (205). In other words, what are these researchers trying to discover? [But wait a minute: is Rude not implying a separation between knowledge and pedagogy and practice here? If so, why? Do we need to?]

From Carolyn D. Rude, “Mapping the Research Questions in Technical Communication,” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 23.2 (2009); 174‐201.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Todd's Burkean Invention in Technical Communication, A Brief Note

While technical communicators and scholars have called for more studies between the intersections of rhetoric and technical communication, in this article, Todd writes that they haven’t done much with the canon of invention, and what has been done with that canon comes only from classical rhetoric. His article discusses what Burke has to add to these discussions. The article focuses on how Burke might be used in the technical communication classroom and other settings, and mentions several Burkean terms like the pentad, ambiguities, propoedentic or nimbleness of thought, limits of agreement, joycing or what Todd calls etymological extension, finding the complex in the simple, expanding the circumference, and four master tropes, all of which are shown to be invention strategies. Personally, I am surprised that Burke’s notion of form is missing here, but I will have to perhaps write something that adds to this discussion as well.

Jeff Todd. 2000. Burkean Invention in Technical Communication. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, January 2000; vol. 30, 1: pp. 81-96.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Miller's Treating Professional Writing as Social Praxis, A Brief Note

While other scholars have used many theories to talk about professional writing and to think about text and context, in this article, Thomas Miller draws on classical rhetoric because it justifies a social and ethics of technical and professional writing. Technical writing, after all, has a strong emphasis on purpose, practicality, and the fulfillment of goals. For civic humanists like Aristotle and Isocrates, the emphasis was on making a morally good person who demonstrated phronesis, or practical wisdom, the capacity to say the right thing at the right time, solving problems when perfect knowledge wasn’t possible. Miller writes, “For Aristotle (and for civic humanists generally), practical wisdom is based on a broad-based understanding of the shared experiences and traditions of the community that enables us to discover what is best in a particular situation” (57-58).

So, there should be no division between theory and practice. Professionals run in to problems when they know more than they can put into practice. They have to learn common sense and how to apply principles in order to be successful. Knowledge is not an object, but is socially constructed.

Civic humanism manages the so-called divide between theory and practice. We can’t pretend that rhetoric is just theory whereas composition is the techne, the practice of that theory. Technical writing is social action. Writing is not amoral, and neither science nor writing is free from values (63). Miller sounds a lot like James Berlin's 1988 argument in several parts of this article. Humans can’t be reduced to information. We’re much more than that.

An uncritical but fragmented knowledge can be dangerous to humanism (69). Separating context and text can be, too. We should teach technical and professional writing as social praxis so that it becomes more than just a skills class--so that it becomes practical in the most important sense of that word.

Miller, Thomas P. 1991. "Treating Professional Writing as Social Praxis" JAC. Vol. 11, 1: pp. 57-72.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Miller's Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing, A Brief Note

Miller clearly explains her argument in these terms:

“I wish to argue that the common opinion that the undergraduate technical writing course is a ‘skills’ course with little or no humanistic value is the result of a lingering but pervasive positivist view of science.”

The positivist view that Miller is arguing against seems to be similar to, if not the same thing that Burke calls semantic meaning and argues against in "Semantic and Poetic Meaning." Positivism reduces science to the testable, and words are not science but they get in the way of knowledge. From that perspective, only sensory data is pure knowledge. 

For Miller, positivism has unfortunately influenced the teaching of technical writing in at least 4 ways.
  1. First, we talk about clarity, but the term clarity is not objective because we can't actually explain what it means.
  2. Second, we talk about style and form without talking about invention. Does science invent? Or discover?
  3. Third, we teach that tone should be objective and impersonal, but there are real people reading our writing.
  4. Fourth, we talk about levels of audience.
But philosophers don’t believe in positivism, anymore, and rhetoric is actually epistemic. In other words, words are themselves forms of knowledge, and knowledge is created. Science is about symbols and arguments, not just about material things. In short, science is a form of rhetoric.

Since communication occurs in communities, we should talk about understanding in technical communication and not just skills because discussions on skills tend to emphasize the writer, whereas a focus on understanding emphasizes both writer and reader. And that focus on both writers and readers is necessary because we don't want to neglect the one while privileging the other.

From Carolyn R. Miller, “A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing.” Johndan Johnson‐Eilola and Stuart A. Selber, Eds., Central Works in Technical Communication, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Johnson's "User-Centered Technology," A Brief Note

In User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts, Robert Johnson takes James Kinneavy’s application of I.A. Richard’s rhetorical triangle and appropriates it to technology, concluding that technical communication and usability studies can benefit from centering technology on users instead of designers. Users are practitioners, producers, and citizens, he writes (46).

In other words, rhetorical theory can be used to talk about artifacts in technical communication and usability studies. Technology, like speeches, are designed for users and not designers. But, historically, designers were privileged over users, and to some degree, they still are, but they shouldn’t be because the audience plays a key role that cannot be neglected: the end of technology is users--people, human beings. The rhetorical situation triangle thing of speaker, audience, and purpose, should be used to talk about and think about technology.

In short, users are practitioners, producers, and citizens.

Here's the citation for the book:
Johnson, R. R. (1998). User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts. State University of New York Press.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Wikramanayake's Note on the Pisteis in Aristotle's Rhetoric, A Brief Summary

Wikramanayake responds to Grimaldi’s 1957 article by saying that Grimaldi only discusses how pistis is used in 1354-1356 in the Rhetoric, arguing that Grimaldi is wrong on the grounds that the entire treatise needs to be discussed, not just the first bit. So, for Wikramanayake, while pistis is used in 3 senses throughout Aristotle’s Rhetoric, one of these senses, the “pledge of good faith” at 1375a10 is not relevant to Aristotle’s rhetorical theory. 

There are only two other meanings—not Grimaldi’s three—and they overlap with one another: 1) the state of mind that is produced in the audience and 2) the means whereby that state of mind is produced. Wikramanayake’s first meaning—the state of mind produced in the audience—corresponds with Grimaldi’s third meaning, whereas Wikramanayake believes his second meaning is similar to Grimaldi’s second meaning. Wikramanayake contends that Grimaldi’s first meaning, pisteis as subject matter or source material, does not exist in Aristotle because whenever Aristotle talks about source material or subject matter he uses either circumlocution, or topos or eidos

So, Wikramanayake’s second meaning is limited to pisteis atechnoi as well as pisteis entechnoi, the latter of which for Wikramanayake includes ethical, emotional, and logical demonstration. Furthermore, the logical part of pisteis entechnoi contains demonstration by enthymeme and paradigm. Wikramanayake then contends that Grimaldi excludes enthymemes and paradigms from logical proofs, but demonstration is one of the proofs. In fact, enthymeme is, as Aristotle says, the body of proof, not just an appendage, so Grimaldi must be wrong.

Wikramanayake, G. H. 1961. “A Note on the Pisteis in Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” The American Journal of Philology 82(2): 1961, pp. 193-196.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Grimaldi's Note on the Pisteis in Aristotle's Rhetoric, A Brief Summary

Traditionally, the pisteis entechnoi have been defined as ethos, pathos, and logos, where ethos and pathos have been equated with non- or quasi-logical, and where logos has been equated with the logical and the enthymeme. But the way Aristotle uses the word pistis has no univocal meaning and is difficult to define, and what he actually means is much more nuanced. Furthermore, the misunderstanding of the different meanings of pistis have created much confusion and many seeming inconsistencies. In this article, Grimaldi analyzes sections 1354-1356 from Aristotle’s Rhetoric to give three different meanings of the word pistis
  1. first, pistis is source material that can induce belief in an audience. This is where we find the atechnoi and entechnoi pisteis, which Grimaldi calls ethos, pathos, and pragma
  2. Second, pistis is the method whereby the source material is used to produce pistis in the audience. This pistis, like episteme, is the result of demonstration. It is under this definition of pistis where enthymemes and paradigms are employed. 
  3. Finally, pistis is the state of mindbelief—that has been produced or induced in the audience.

So, depending on how we define pistis, we will be talking about something slightly different. If pisteis are source materials for proofs, then those proofs lie in ethos, pathos, and pragma. But if pisteis are modes of demonstration, then they are enthymemes and paradigms. Hence, Grimaldi argues that the enthymeme must not be equated with the third definition of pistis, but the enthymeme instead employs the pisteis entechnoi, the source material. The enthymeme thus embodies the pisteis, giving them form so they can be used to persuade an audience. [And now I wonder if we can say something like induce belief.]

Grimaldi also recognizes that ethos and pathos are not non- or quasi-logical because as human beings, we make judgments and accept propositions with feelings, emotions, will, character, and intellect. 

From Grimaldi, William M. A. 1957. “A Note on the Pisteis in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, 1354-1356.” The American Journal of Philology 78(2): 1957, pp. 188-192. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Aristotle, On the Soul Book 3.3

Book 3.3 is about the imagination. Many philosophers believe that thinking is perceiving. [At least, they use metaphors to describe thinking in terms of perceiving.] But this is not entirely the case because that would mean that everything that we see was true, and we are sometimes deceived by our senses. The sun, for example, looks small but is actually many times larger than the earth. But seeing things as they really are is always true, but it is possible to think falsely. Thought belongs to no creature which doesn’t have the power to reason.

Imagination is different from both perception and thought. It always implies perception, and is itself implied by judgment. It’s not in our power to form opinions about whatever we want because our opinions must be either true or false. When we form opinions we are immediately affected by them.
Imagination is a form of judgment, but it is not always right. Is it opinion?

“[O]pinion implies belief (for one cannot hold opinions in which one does not believe)” (428a20). Lower creatures don’t believe, but many have imagination. “Again, every opinion [doxa] is accompanied by belief [pistis], belief by conviction, and conviction by rational discourse [logos]” (428a20). Some creatures have imagination, but no reasoning power, no logos.

“Since sight is the chief sense, the name phantasia (imagination) is derived from phaos (light), because without light it is impossible to see” (429a). 

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Note on the Topics of Aristotle

Wow. Look at this definition! “Now syllogism is a statement [logos] in which, certain things having been posited, something other than the posited necessarily results through what is posited” (100a). We have something—and something else comes in to being from it! Where’s Aristotle’s On Coming to Be and Passing Away when I need it? J

Apodeixis [logical demonstration] occurs whenever the syllogism is drawn from things that are true and primary or from things that are of the sort as to have taken the first principle of knowledge of them from what is primary and true; but a syllogism is dialectical when drawn from generally accepted opinions” (100a-100b18). Things that are true are persuasive in themselves and by themselves. Opinions, or endoxa, are things that seem right to all people or most people or the wise, meaning most of the wise, or the most well-known as authorities.

Dialectic is useful for 3 purposes: mental training as a method to undertake discussion on any subject, serious conversation that lets us restate what other say to us, and philosophical science, since dialectic enables us to state both sides of an issue and thereby more easily see what is true and what is false.

“We shall possess the method completely when we are in the same situation as in rhetoric and medicine and such faculties: that is, [able] to accomplish what we choose from the available means; for neither will the one with rhetorical skill persuade by every means nor will the doctor heal, but if none of the available means is neglected we shall say that he has knowledge adequately” (101b).

[What exactly is “available means”?]

From Topics Book 1.1-3

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Revisionist Historiography and Rhetorical Tradition(s), A Brief Note

The rhetorical tradition used to be something we could talk about in a cool way. It was our history. But some people didn’t like the term tradition. Tradition, Sutton believes, promotes uniformity, consistency, while excluding “the rare, the exception, the unique” (qtd. in Graff and Leff 12).

The history of rhetoric “is itself a rhetorical achievement” (12). But tradition doesn’t have to be a bad word, and it brings with it important considerations. We need a tradition from which to measure our innovations. And without a tradition, we lack a collective identity.

We need a sense of tradition that is both stable and flexible. The tradition should also be pedagogical.

Baldwin is cited as saying that everything after Aristotle was decline. Then we have Walter saying that classical rhetoric is interesting because of its “different starting points, its myriad assumptions, its contrasting aims” (qtd. in Graff and Leff 14) which, as stated on page 14, consist of
·         the metaphysical (Protagoras and Plato)
·         the social (Isocrates and Cicero)
·         the epistemological (Descartes, Locke, Campbell)
·         the educational-ethical (Quintilian)
·         the theological (Augustine)
·         the esthetic (Blair)
·         the logical (Whately)
·         and the psychological (Winans)

In short, some notion of tradition is desirable—otherwise, how do we have an intellectual community?

Pedagogy is sensitive to the whole, but also sensitive to the one. We all teach and need to, but teaching is individual. Not just one person, but one time and place, too.

Pedagogy is what we have in common. It is also the theory combined with the practice.

FroRichard Graff and Michael Leff. 2005. “Revisionist Historiography and Rhetorical Tradition(s).” The Viability of the Rhetorical Tradition. Ed. Richard Graff, Arthur E. Walzer, and Janet M. Atwill. 11-30.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria Book XII, A Brief Summary

Quintilian says that this part is, for him, the hardest.

So, Quintilian writes, let the orator be a good person who is skilled in speaking, as Cato says. “But this view of mine has further implications. I am not only saying that the orator must be a good man, but that no one can be an orator unless he is a good man” (12.1.3). Rhetoric lets us see things on many sides of a question, so one who can see both good and evil wouldn’t be intelligent if he or she chose evil over good—that person would be a fool.

“Moreover, the mind is never at liberty even to study this noble art unless it is free of all vices: first, because virtue and vice cannot coexist in the same breast, and a single mind can no more harbor the best thoughts and the worst than the same man can be both good and bad” (12.1.4-5). An evil mind is essentially torn apart by itself. What room is there in this mind for goodness? What room is there in this mind for literature, art, or culture, for anything uplifting or edifying?

But what of those imperfect people who spoke so well, like Demosthenes and Cicero? Neither was perfect, but they were good men. Even Pythagoras sought not to be called a wise man, but a lover of wisdom (i.e. a philosopher). Cicero, too, was a great orator, yet he also never claimed to be wise. And even if there were a bad person who persuaded many people, Quintilian would deny that this person was an orator. Good speaking doesn’t mean just persuading a lot of people to do something. It means influencing people to do what is right.

The best person to persuade others of what is good is the person who has first persuaded himself or herself of what is good and has acted on it. The bad person is inconsistent and may speak and act in a way that is other than what he or she really feels or believes, while good people “will never lack for honourable words or an Invention that provides honourable matter” (12.1.30). 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria Book VI, A Brief Summary

Book VI
Here, Quintilian discusses how the peroration, a part of a speech, consists of both the factual and emotional and how facts and emotions are used and appealed to. Both speech and action can provoke tears, but attempting to arouse tears shouldn’t be done by the unskilled because the reward is either tears or laughter. And laughter when a speaker wants tears is failure. [We’ve all seen movies like this. I wonder if this is why movies sometimes seem cheesy: a director wants viewers to be moved to tears or some other tender emotion but fails and the audience is instead moved to laughter. I am suddenly reminded of Monuments Men, a movie I once saw during which I felt the director was trying to force me to be emotional. Have you experienced this? What media were you watching or reading?]

Quintilian continues by saying that while proofs may make people think something, emotions make them want a thing. Emotions are effective in persuasion because people tend to believe the things that they want. Quintilian writes, “For as soon as they [listeners of a speech] begin to be angry or to feel favourably disposed, to hate or to pity, they fancy that it is now their own case that is being pleaded, and just as lovers cannot judge beauty because their feelings anticipate the perception of their eyes, so also a judge who is overcome by his emotions gives up any idea of inquiring into truth; he is swept along by the tide, as it were, and yields to the swift current” (6.2.6). But emotions function on the part of the speaker as well as on the audience. A speaker who is dry and shows no emotion is no fun to listen to, just as an audience who doesn’t feel much emotion may not be as persuaded as one that does. Hence, Quintilian writes, “The life and soul of oratory, we may say, is in the emotions” (6.2.8). Without emotion, everything else is dull, pale, and dry.

There are two kinds of emotion: pathos and ethos. Some say ethos is permanent, while pathos is temporary, and this belief is somewhat right for Quintilian. Ethos is whatever is said and done about what should be done or what is honorable. The ethos we want to see in a speaker is goodness. A “speaker’s character shines through his speech” (6.2.14).

A speaker who wishes to arouse emotions must be aroused by them also. Yet emotions are not completely in our own power. Speakers who have the greatest power have cultivated what the Greeks call phantasiai, which could be called “visions.” It is like the imagination, where one can see before one’s eyes things that aren’t present. So, to some degree speakers can will emotions via imagination and practice. [Isn’t this also what actors do?]

Book Review: The Rhetoric of American Civil Religion

I've recently received word from Taylor & Frances Online that a book review I wrote was published in the Journal of Religious and Th...