Education: Communicate effectively or “die”

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Johannes Eulen is a contributor to our Reaching for an Education column. 

The title of this piece may seem unduly provocative, but it is simply a statement of fact.

All that texting, Instagram, Snapchat or similar “apps” do is convey a moment, a feeling or an emotion. They have their uses, but communicating the stories and narratives that nourish our brains and change the world is not one of them.

Similarly, one can have all the credentials and technical skills, but if one cannot create and convey a coherent and forceful narrative in ways that engage, inform and persuade, one is unlikely to change the world, or truly influence those one cares about.

For over 2,000 years, at least in the West, there was a simple solution to this. One learnt the art of Rhetoric, based upon techniques developed and honed in the Agora of Athens and the Fora of Rome by great orators such as Demosthenes and Cicero – a skill defined by Aristotle as: “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.”

The word “persuasion” is the key. Whether we like it or not, to get ahead in this world, it is as important as it ever was to be able to persuade an individual, a Board, an audience, a judge, or a parliament.

It is, therefore, somewhat ironic, that Rhetoric as such is not in any formal school curriculum (and certainly not in Bermuda); while the equally important skill of writing a coherent essay is also rarely taught. Of course, there are debating societies, and we are sure that some subversive educators do take the time to teach the art of writing. However, these are, tellingly, “extra-curricular” activities- ones that give their beneficiaries a definite advantage in life.

We may have achieved all the supposed technological advances that clutter our lives and our minds, but our brains are little changed from the time when the campfire created a focus for each group of hunter-gatherers to sit and share stories.

Our brains do not crave facts; they crave stories and the meaning which they provide to our lives. Those who possess the knowledge and skills of Rhetoric are, and will continue to be, at a distinct advantage in developing their careers and improving their lives.

We shall show that what was Old is New again in further articles.

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