Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Rhetoric of Motives

Two of my favorite college courses were Communication Law and Communication Theory. Communication Law focused on the First Amendment and copyright. Communication Theory dissected the complicated aspects of communication.
As we examined First Amendment cases, I was facinated by the distinctions between free speech and individual rights protecting libel and slander. We do not have the right to lie. We cannot yell "fire" in a crowd. And if those lies harm another, it is against the law - whether verbally or in writing. It's really that simple.
Communication Theory was my passion. I love it still. How do we effectively communicate a message? How do we effectively evaluate the messages we hear and see? My career has led me in the path of crafting messages so I am reminded to go back to basics often and look at how messages are perceived. How can we craft communications to help people understand our intended message? And, as we receive a message, how do we determine it's true intent or truthfulness?
We often assume a great deal. When we hear gossip, for example, how do we determine what is true? Is it more reliable based on the person who tells it? Is it more reliable if they tell a story and a portion of the information is also in the newspaper? Is it more reliable if that person tells the gossip in front of someone else who nods in agreement?
How do you decide? My favorite theorist, Kenneth Burke, would point to Motives. Look deeply at the motives of the communication source. You must go beyond the message and seek the greater context. There you will gain a larger truth. You can apply this to corporations or individuals. Look for the motives behind the rhetoric.

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