In 350 B.C., in “On Rhetoric,” Aristotle described three categories of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos.
Ethos, Greek for character, refers to making an appeal based on the character (or credibility) of the speaker. We are more open to the ideas of people we like, people we respect, people we consider to be trustworthy. Ethos also refers to making an argument based on ethics.
Pathos, Greek for suffering or experience, means persuading by appealing to the emotions, the use of vivid language and sensation-loaded words and images that stir our feelings and move our hearts, creating sympathy or empathy, engaging our imagination or causing the listener to identify with the speaker’s point of view. The use of story with sensory detail is a common way to make an idea seem real and present in the listener’s mind.
Logos, Greek for word, is the Mr. Spock approach–an appeal to reason and logic. It refers to clarity of the argument, the weight of the supporting evidence, the use of facts and statistics.
I find that many people subscribe to some version of the “big secret” theory of life, also known by its variants the “lottery” theory and “when my ship comes in.”
The big secret theory is that there is some special talisman, some powerful hidden mystery that once unraveled holds the key to life. Some key that once possessed unlocks a cornucopia of limitless abundance. Most might deny they think this way, but if you observe people living their lives or listen to them for any extended time, their actions (or inactions) usually belie their words.
This big secret theory of life is magical thinking, and it is patent nonsense. It is worse than useless because it diverts people’s attention and efforts, distracts them from taking meaningful actions to propel their lives forward to their greatest potential. Instead it dissipates their energy and focus while they chase mythical pots of gold at the end of ever-distant rainbows.
“When the Student is ready, the Teacher will appear” is a Buddhist proverb I’ve always liked.
I would imagine a kindly old man appearing in front of me with a chalkboard and a pointer, tapping away as he gently made his points in an easy-to-comprehend outline form. For good measure, he would give me a summary handout at the end of his cheery little talk, pat me on my back, and wish me well on my journey.
Never happened that way.
I found that some of my best teachers were the most irritating people I’ve met, the ones who rubbed me the wrong way, who rocked my boat until water was getting my brand-new shoes wet. How inconsiderate.
And all to often I realized that the teachers had been there for a long time, waiting for me to notice them. Time wasted, opportunity ignored.
So now when my buttons get pushed (and I’m steadfastly working at diminishing my buttons), I ask myself effective, empowering questions: “What does this person have to teach me?” “When can I learn from this?” “How can I use this experience to grow?” “How can I get ready for my next lesson?” “How can I best prepare myself?”