Saturday, April 2, 2011

Judges, Implied Audiences, and the Transformative Potential of Speech

Lawyers who go to court and try cases spend a lot of time talking about, and trying to figure out how judges think. Because, in all hearings or trials except jury trials, the judge is the sole decision-maker, the one who will either accept or reject the lawyer's argument. And, if you are going to persuade someone, you need to know what is important to that person.

Now, I could write a really engaging post here if I could tell the truth about judges actions, and report on the real conversations of lawyers about judges. Some of us lawyers have very complex psychological analyses of judges that would amaze the judges, and might even be as beneficial as psychological therapy for them, if they would take them seriously. And, then again, some of our theories of how a judge thinks may be so off base that it would make the judge "belly laugh" if he (all our judges in Blount County are male) heard it.

In practicing law, you need to know the law, and you need to understand your judges. You also need to understand your clients. To know the law means you get a real sense of what it means, and how to apply it in various situations: your client's situation and the situation in the courtroom where you need to persuade the judge or a jury.

But, sometimes I think we lawyers sell ourselves short when we forget how much power we have when we really understand the law, our clients and the judge. Because all judges, like all people, have their better and worse selves, have their better and worse days. If you can appeal to that better self on a good day, you may be able to persuade the judge to make a decision he or she wouldn't normally make. When you go to court as a lawyer, you paint a picture. If it is compelling enough, the judge buys that picture and you get what your client is requesting. And, part of that picture you paint as a lawyer is the picture of the judge (the image of the judge). If you can project an image of the judge that is favorable to your viewpoint, then the judge might go your way. What a real good lawyer does is get the judge to imagine himself as the kind of judge you are projecting in your argument.

What I am really getting at is an analysis of rhetoric. In rhetorical analysis, one concept that is discussed is the implied audience, and how the speaker constructs the implied audience in the speech. Of course, there is a real audience that hears the speech, which may or may not be in accord with the implied audience. What is really interesting though is the extent to which a speaker can create out of a real audience the implied audience that will receive his or her speech. In other words, the speaker has to hit the real audience close enough to home and in a way that inspires something deep within or else the audience isn't going to be shaped into the type of audience that the speech is meant for. There is a creative, dynamic process occurring when a speaker really engages the hearer. At times, the speaker herself can be transformed by the event as well. But, the speaker shouldn't forget another part of the picture. For the speaker has to paint the picture, and become the speaker that this argument is meant for as well. That requires that the speaker by transformed by the event as well. The dynamic, truly persuasive argument is one in which the speaker becomes transformed or given to the speaking. That is what gives the speech power to transform the hearer as well. If the speaker simply stays in his or her own skin, he or she only has personal, persuasive power. If the speaker gives himself to the speaking event, then something greater can happen.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Week Later: Thinking about body and soul, preaching, and personal conversations

Six days ago I posted about having spent a week paying some attention to my inner life, and how that seemed to have restored a deep sense of sanity and peace.

This week, I have gotten run over a little more by concerns, work, and the whatever it is that wears us out even when life is going pretty well. So, here I am on Thursday morning. It has still been a good week, but I have not sustained my energy too well. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

It seems that I have not attended to the needs of my body very well. And, that tends to wear out the soul in time. So, last week I had this focus on the soul that seemed to sustain me body and soul. But, this week, I got all caught up in concerns of work and other concerns, failed to attend to the state of my body or soul very well, and I am worn out. But, I am not worn out too bad in my soul, more in my body. If I don't turn this around by attending to body, then it will wear down my soul as well. The state of my soul this Thursday morning is fairly positive, but a little off center. The state of my body is very tired, which I think causes the sense of being off-balance. I'll try to pay some attention today to body and soul, and see if I can regain the sense of peace and energy I had at the end of last week.

I am thinking of seeing how fasting might help restore the equilibrium in body and soul that brings peace and new energy. I think that by paying some attention each week to the state of body and soul, I can keep from sinking down too low. The soul can endure a lot, and when you have to exert yourself in trying circumstances in ways that would seem to wear your body out, if there is purpose in this exertion, it seems like the soul's energy just sustains the body. But, when you are exerting yourself a lot and don't have a sense of purpose, then the weariness of the body tears down the soul - that is, where there is no energy coming from the soul.

I have watched my mother and father endure overwhelming challenges with a sense of strength and sanity and good spirit even when these challenges would seem to have caused bodily or emotional collapse. Their key was that they acted in love for others. And, with both of them, there was just this deep sense of responsibility and toughness. These concrete memories of how they endured are active memories with me that inspire a similar perserverence and determination and almost pride in living on and living with deep purpose when challenges arise.

Well, back to the abstract.

Now, I know that it is a fiction to some extent talking about body and soul as if they are separate entities. Of course, they are united, and that is why I am finding out how attention to inner affects outer, and attention to outer affects inner. But, I still find the words "body" and "soul" helpful in trying to talk about and understand how I and other human beings are made up.

This talk may be too abstract to communicate very well. That's the reason it is good that we have the chance to communicate personally with each other about the real facts of a week. What I did in particular that wore me down, how I reacted positively or negatively to what someone else did. What I did that didn't make sense this week, and what I did that restored a sense of meaning this week. How others actions have affected me for good or evil. In these concrete details is the real message and meaning of the week. There are probably some I could tell without being too revealing, but most of the things that really matter day to day are pretty personal, I am beginning to think - whether they are thoughts or deeds.

This makes me think about preaching, and how it would be great on one hand to be able to let down all guards and just make sense of a scripture in terms of the real concrete struggles we are going through. Instead, in preaching, you have to figure out a way that speaks of things that are real enough to evoke reflection on real life in the hearers, but not so real or revealing as to evoke worry for or too much attention on the life of the preacher. Telling stories about things that have happened to others, or things you have observed can be helpful. For example, I could tell some stories of how I have seen my mother and father endure, and that would evoke a good reflection in others.

But, this post makes me think that there is really no substitute for deeply trusting, personal communication where you can really speak about the details of your experience and hear about someone else's thoughts and deeds and observations and compare and try to make sense of it all. I have been part of Bible Study at times when this has happened, but over the course of my life, it has almost always happened in informal conversations with one other person, or maybe two or three at a time where the communion was strong. We are all fairly quirky. When we share the real way we deal with life with others, they are bound to be amused and also touched, thinking: "well, that's almost as crazy as how I deal with life, but it does make a little sense . . . and it makes me feel a little less alone too."