Orators and Writers

Yesterday I was reading an op-ed in Mint when it struck me was that this particular columnist never argues – in the sense that he never constructs an argument using inductive or deductive logic. His method or argument is to say the same thing over and over again – in different ways, using different metaphors. He hopes to make his point by way of reinforcement, and considering his popularity and his ubiquity across the media, I’m sure it works for a lot of people (though not for me).

Then I started thinking about people who are known to be “great orators”, mostly from the Indian political space. I started thinking about Vajpayee, about Chandrashekhar and several other similar people. I discovered the same thing about them. That they seldom construct an argument using deductive or inductive logic. Their way of getting the point across is the same as the Mint columnist’s – to say the same thing forcefully and in several different ways.

And thinking about it, it seems quite logical. When you are addressing a large audience, you will need to take everyone along. You will need to ensure that everyone is clued in on what you are speaking on. And when you speak, there is no way for the listener to take a step or two back if he/she misses something you said. Unlike text, the speech has to be interpreted in one parse. So if you are to be a great orator, you need to make sure that you take the audience along; that you construct your speech in such a way that even if someone gets distracted for a few words they can join back and appreciate the rest of the speech. Hence you are better off indulging in rhetoric rather than argument.

A writer, on the other hand, has no such compulsions. It is easy for his reader to go back and forth and parse the essay in whatever order he deems fit. As long as he keeps the language simple, the reader is likely to go along with him. On the other hand, if the writer indulges in rhetoric, the reader is likely to get bored and that could be counterproductive. Hence, writers are more into argument than into rhetoric.

Which brings me back to the Mint columnist I was reading yesterday who, as far as I know, has been a prolific writer but not as much as an orator (or maybe he is but I wouldn’t know since he lives abroad). And I’m puzzled that he has settled on a rhetorical style rather than an argumentative style. I’ve happened to meet him and even then he was mostly using rhetoric rather than reasoning in his arguments.

So yeah, the essence is that there are two ways in which you can construct arguments – by logical reasoning which is mostly preferred by writers and by rhetoric which is preferred by orators. I’m not sure how successful you can be if you interchange styles.

Bilateral Crib Arrangements and Correlation

People say that cribbing is in general good for health, and I heartily agree. I love to crib. Occasionally I bore the hell out of my listener with my cribbing. And I’m sure the readers of this blog have also been on the receiving end of this on more than one occasion. There have been occasions when I’ve been specifically asked not to crib, and others when people have tried to subtly indicate to me that they are not comfortable with my cribbing.

In order to prevent the latter problem (of boring someone with my cribs and them not being able to directly tell me to shut up), over the last few years, I’ve entered into several informal “Bilateral crib arrangements”. Ok – I’ve never used that term before – in fact, I invented that term only some two or three days back. But that doesn’t take anything away from the nature of the arrangements.

So a bilateral crib arrangement is an informal arrangement you get into where you agree to listen to someone’s cribs and lend a friendly shoulder wiht the implicit agreement that they return the favour. The terms of the arrangement are never really described in that many words but that is essentially what it is. It usually has a component where one party says “ok let’s change the subject now” or something to that effect, and the counterparty replies “no no it’s ok you can crib on”.

Occasionally I’ve also gotten into one-way arrangements – where I either only put or receive cribs, but dont’ do the opposite action. Basically this happens when one of the two parties is more comfortable with the ohter than the opposite relationship, or if one of the parties alreeady has enough crib-receivers and doesn’t need one more, but is happy to receive cribs. Though some of them have lasted, occasionally I’ve felt uncomfortable in those – assymetric relationships create mental obligations.

So coming to bilateral crib arrangements – the biggest threat to these arrangements that I’ve observed is what I call as correlation. For a bilateral crib arrangement to work effectively, it is useful if one party is in the position to receive cribs while the other wants to crib. The situation when both don’t need to crib is also good. The problem occurs if both parties want to crib and want to crib to each other.

I’ve been through this several times and it hasn’t really been pleasant. On a number of occasions, I’ve had to back down and somehow bring my cribs under control while lending a friendly shoulder to my crib-partner. On others, I’ve visibly noticed crib-partners putting up with my cribs just so as to not create conflict. Such situations are suboptimal for both parties involved, and need to be avoided.

In this regard, it is important to choose a crib partner whose correlation with you is low. That way, the chances that both of you will want to crib at the same time to each other is low, and the awkward situation of competitive cribbing or backing out can be avoided. I don’t really know how you can choose people with low correlation with you, but I supopse you’ll have to take a few data points and extrapolate. Also avoid people whose correlation with you is obviously high – such as collagues.

Another effective tool in cribpartner management is to be diversified. You need not have several bilateral crib arrangements, but with a judicious combination of unidirectional and bidirectional crib arrangements, keeping in mind various time zones, you can ensure that there is a receiver to listen to you whenever you want to crib.