A Toolbox is Always the Metaphor

Rhetoric is the search for the right tool, even if you don’t know what for.

When thinking of the way I wanted to define rhetoric, I had a number of different ideas on my plate that I thought were pretty integral to the concept. I spent a long time writing the beginning of sentences and various metaphors and then erasing them and starting over. And I found out that my definition might not be too long, but it sure would be far too complex. I wrote about five separate one-line definitions and I sat down for a while just looking over each one, honing them down and considering with one was truer to me. There was one about rhetoric being like riding a bike, incredibly original, I’m aware — the main focus was supposed to be about balance — another was about a father and a son working on a car (this was the closet one to the final draft) and finally another one was about a butter knife — just, don’t ask. What I was trying to do is nail down a major piece I believed was essential to rhetoric, just one, and then write about that.

I believe balance is key, and is something that I didn’t fully represent in my definition, though searching for the right tool is along the same vein. Rhetoric involves a great deal of consideration for many factors. You have to consider your audience, the occasion, your knowledge, and the persona you will be portraying. It is all a sort of balancing act, a delicate one, and just like juggling, drop one, and they all fall. This is where the searching for the right tool comes in. Your diction, your voice, your subject and so much more, are all tools available to you, whether you choose them carefully or not. But any rhetorical situation presents an opportunity to make one of these choices, and it is almost never fully clear which choice will be the most effective. Should I lower my vocabulary and talk like a your average 18 year old when giving a speech, or when much less is at stake, maybe in class? Probably not for either, though there are times to do so. My point is that we all have many different rhetorical tools at our disposals whenever we decide to speak, but choosing between them is never straightforward.

This leads rather smoothly into my last fragment, my last point, but I am afraid that it is nowhere near as strong as the first. The decision of choosing voice and diction and etc. can only by made if you can accurately judge your audience. There are many times when the when you might bring the wrong tools to the job because it was too difficult to see what the job was. You might not notice exactly how sensitive a friend is and in an attempt to cheer them up, you might tell a joke at their expense, only worsening the problem. Finding the right tool gets increasingly more challenging if you don’t know your job, if you know what for.

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