Eloquence involves saying the right thing in the right way with a sense of ease. An eloquent person, then, is someone who often or almost always speaks eloquently.
In this third episode, Alexandra and I discuss misconceptions about the nature of eloquence: that eloquence is flowery speech, charismatic speech, or scholarly discourse. We urge instead that natural or everyday eloquence is intended to create a space of clarity involving both speaker and listener.
Measured speech is neither pithy (witticism) nor voluminous (garrulity). Measured speech is the expression of, or accompaniment to, the virtue of temperance. Let us transform ourselves.
Do I tend to blurt things out? Why is that? Why can’t I seem to hold my tongue?
I think I have to ‘say my piece,’ but do I have to? Does my voice ‘have to be heard’? Always or only in certain circumstances?
Am I repeating myself? Have I said any of these things today or recently: ‘Again,’ ‘To reiterate,’ ‘Not to repeat myself, but…’, ‘Just to be clear–‘, ‘Let me remind you….’ If so, why? Am I concerned that the other won’t understand me? Do I assume that no one can understand me?
Am I trying to sound overly clever? Have I said too little or in the wrong way? Is the other baffled or injured, and have I said what I said in this fashion with a clear purpose? Why? Do I think it licit to be cruel?
What stands in the way of my speaking, as it were, in haikus? Remember Rochefoucald: ‘Eloquence is saying the right thing and only the right thing.’ The qualifier only is highly significant. A good sentence needn’t be long or unduly complicated. The best get to the point.
What of decorum? It used to help us see when something could be said but would nevertheless be inappropriate to say, e.g., in these circumstances.
What keeps me from spending more of my time in silence? Could I change the ‘default setting’ from speaking to being quiet? Could I get rid of the chatter or, if not, then minimize it? Could speech be as rare and true as Nature’s voice, as beautiful as desert flowers?
One of the arts I have been practicing over the past three years has been ‘the art of everyday eloquence.’ I believe I am chiefly alone in this, but I also believe that it is one of the most important arts to learn for individuals who seek to lead good and decent lives outside of the institutions that either are not working or are slowly passing out of existence.
This ‘art of everyday eloquence’ is to be distinguished from other genres of writing. It is not ‘critical thinking,’ the nonsense stuff taught in elementary college courses; nor is it creative writing, the nonsense stuff taught in liberal arts colleges and breeding an oversupply of professional MFAs (I don’t recall Joyce enrolling at Iowa Writers’ Workshop); nor it is technical writing, the sort of thing one does when one writes manuals and instruction guides for large corporations; nor business writing, the crafting of memos, queries, executive summaries, and proposals; nor letters of applications; nor the private letter, the kind that Rilke excelled in; nor even the writer’s pitch, the academic proposal, or the non-profit grant.
Directness: to mean, with each statement, what I say and to say, with each statement, what I mean–this and no more. To avoid expressions of sentiment; to be restrained, temperate, composed, never therefore to blurt out. To get to or at something at the appropriate time rather than beating around the bush. Never to be ‘allusive’ or ‘suggestive’. To be moderate with speech, using only so many words as can fit into my hands and be put into another’s. The voice a well-tuned instrument. Measured breath for the ear.
“[E]loquence consists of saying the right things and only the right things.”
What is it like for someone not to ‘get me?’
She can be focused on me but ask the wrong questions. He can be focused on me but look at the wrong things. She can care for me but fail to recognize me. He draws the wrong conclusions about everything I say.
He can be kind but this kindness can lack all beauty or grace. He can offer me gifts but the gifts would be wrong, the manner ill-suited, the returns already anticipated. She can show me affection in ways that cannot permit me to respond at all or in kind. I can be the object of his care and well-wishing, of her concern and fear but be lost and alone all the while. I can feel stuck, lacking autonomy, voiceless and removed.
In a word, I can be the right person but around the wrong people.
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