Upside Down Is Right Side Up

George Orwell, in his book 1984, coined the word doublethink. Emma Baldwin (Newspeak in 1984 Explained – Book Analysis) defines it this way, “It refers to a type of cognitive dissonance where one is capable of bailing two things at once. These two things should, if one’s reasoning is clear, cancel one another out. The party slogans are one of the clearest examples of doublethink. It purports that one thing is another, even though those reading/hearing the slogan know it means something else entirely. For example: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”

Doublethink is why, living in a contemporary 1984 world, social and governmental forces insist you look at the above picture and conclude that the boy is actually right side up. A rational person could not come to that conclusion. But doublethink is a means of destroying logical thought, a process intended to secure allegiance to the leaders who make such statements.

Doublethink, Alive and Well

Several years ago, riots rocked numerous American cities. One news reporter insisted that the demonstrations were “peaceful” at the same time buildings were burning and stores were being looted on film behind the reporter. Other reports insisted the same thing despite finding out later that windows were smashed, stores were looted, and many people lost their businesses.

Yeonmi Park grew up in North Korea. She was taught that North Korea was a socialist paradise and that as their “dear leader” suffered on their behalf, they should struggle with him. However, at the same time that many people were starving, train cars carrying luxury goods and food were regularly delivered on special train cars to the leader’s family. Socialism for thee but not for me.

She described how she learned only to memorize the propaganda of the North Korean government. Force fed to believe how wonderful everything was in North Korea, she failed at the time to see the disconnect between what she was taught and the fact that she and her sister were forced to eat bugs to stay alive. “I had never been taught to use the ‘critical thinking’ part of my brain, the part that makes reasoned judgments about why one thing seems better than another.” (In Order to Live, p. 208) In a second book, she warns about the same process in the West that forces people to believe ideas contrary to human nature and to common sense. People who think can be dangerous; the truly dangerous don’t think.

Rational Judgment Thrown Out

Suspending logic, the meaning of words, and common sense is the point. One well-known, mind-numbing argument may not exactly be doublethink, but it coincides with doublethink in that it asks the listener to accept an illogical premise and suspend rational thought. The question is sometimes asked, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Any thinking person can recognize the self-contradictory nature of the statement. Clapping is defined by bringing two hands together. There can be no sound of one hand clapping because by definition and experience there is no such thing. I’m not sure of the point except that someone who doesn’t think might be persuaded that the speaker wants the listener to suspend rational thinking and see him as all wise and all knowing. Skip logic; listen to me.

Not to Be Confused with Paradox

Don’t confuse doublethink with paradox, which is an apparent contradiction that turns out to contain truth; it seems to contradict itself but may nevertheless be true. Examples abound in everyday conversation. They are clever ways of telling a truth, and used in the right context, most people understand them as paradoxes. The point is to reveal a truth that might normally be hidden.

  • Less is more.
  • The beginning of the end
  • The more you give, the more you get.
  • The best way out is always through.
  • The louder you are, the less people hear.
  • Impossible is not a word in my vocabulary.
  • The more things change the more they stay the same.
  • The pen is mightier than the sword.

Furthermore, Christianity teaches its adherents that they must die if they are to live. The contradiction of dying to live is resolved when we understand that the death referred to is the death (rejection) of a sinful way of life. Death to that brings about life, likely a reference to eternal life.

Why Don’t They Teach Logic?

In C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, an aging professor is talking to a group of children who face a dilemma, “’Logic.’ Said the Professor half to himself. ‘Why don’t they teach logic in these schools?’” Because of the illogical conclusions of some in authority, they prefer not to teach logic; they indoctrinate. They only want people to accept doublethink. Although doublethink and newspeak eventually wore down Winston, the main character in 1984, writers, speakers, and the rest of us must be on guard against flimsy logic, false rhetoric, and fake jargon.

© 2024 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC, The Lazarus Chronicles

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March 16, 2024|

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

Wartime speeches aren’t business-as-usual speeches. They aren’t meant to be. Were we to examine the speeches of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, or other dignitaries whose sole job was to give meaning and courage to those struggling with conflict and fear, their words might not be relevant for a business conference. However, sometimes speakers are called upon to address people in times of crisis and to provide encouragement and meaning. Words have to be thoughtful and carefully measured; “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver,” Proverbs 25:11. Abraham Lincoln’s “Second Inaugural Address” is one such speech that deserves some attention. Find it here.

Lincoln speaks to the American people, he gives a message of hopeful reconciliation, and he reflects on what he believes to be the overall significance to the Civil War. Though the beauty of his language, rhetoric, and ideas defies over-analysis and calls us simply to reflect on one of the most important eras of our nation, we will nevertheless attempt to help other speakers to engage this master speaker in one of his highest achievements.

Integrity and Character Drive the Message

Many speakers find themselves in situations that demand profound words. Only a person of integrity and character can assemble the content needed during such times. Lincoln had steered the Union through one of its most difficult moments, and at the time of his second inauguration he had to set a new course for the country. Of course, he had made mistakes along the way, but he had to put his own mistakes behind him. As he thought about unifying a divided nation, he incorporates numerous rhetorical devises that not only clarify his message but also make them memorable.

Memorable Phrases

Who can forget his ardent desires for the war to end? “Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.” Expressions like this could remain in the nation’s consciousness. His implied plea to the citizenry is bound up in another memorable phrase. “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right.” Such parallelisms carry a certain force to aid us in remembering his words.

Parallel Thought

In a speech as well as a written text, parallelisms provide needed emphasis, and Lincoln employs them. In the third paragraph he notes, “Neither party expected . . . Neither anticipated . . . Each looked for . . .” In the closing sentences he employs the same structure with dramatic effect. “. . . let us strive to finish the work . . . to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle . . . to do all which may achieve and cherish a lasting peace . . .” This verbal form of a musical flourish concludes the entire speech with power and emotion.

Authoritative Sources

Quoting sources of integrity reflects one of Aristotle’s three pillars of rhetoric, “ethos.” Though Aristotle refers to the speaker’s personal integrity, Lincoln steps back from reflecting on himself and provides a what he considers a more trusted source. To understand justice, the evil of slavery, and the punishment resulting from such an evil, he quotes passages from the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Psalms.

It may come as a great surprise to those who’ve never read this speech that Lincoln quotes the Bible to make his point that somehow God’s purposes may be seen in what has happened. At times any speaker must draw on a higher, proven, and even ancient source of wisdom. Though many have pointed out that Lincoln was not likely a very religious man, much less a professing Christian, he draws on what he believes to be a trusted source.


Lincoln utilizes numerous techniques of good rhetoric, but the wisdom he shares is more than good rhetoric; he probes deep into the nature of evil and into the meaning of events. Should speakers find themselves speaking to a crisis, by integrity and words fitly spoken, the possibility of a new direction, forgiveness, and renewed hope can emerge.

© 2024 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC and The Lazarus Chronicles

March 2, 2024|

The Who, What, and Why of a Speech

I’ve heard it said that people fear public speaking more than dying. I’m inclined to think that is a bit of hyperbole . . . maybe a lot of hyperbole. At the same time, when people are asked to speak, it isn’t uncommon for palms to sweat, hearts to race, and legs to wobble.

As noted in a recent article by a CEO of a food company, leaders must learn to be good communicators and public speakers. The venue can be a board room, a small office, or a large lecture hall. Leaders need to communicate their ideas and do so with clarity.

For those without the benefit of a speech writer, use three questions to make a speech that has both clarity and direction: who, what, and why. Although these provide only the basics of a speech, they are the skeleton that allow you to pile on the muscles of content.

Who Is My Audience?

Think about who you are talking to: co-workers, supervisors, clients. Each audience demands something different. Convincing a group of doctors to invest in your cancer research and convincing cancer patients to invest in the same research could demand a different approach. In the first case, medical details are more likely to persuade the doctors while in the second stories of other cancer survivors who’ve undergone the treatment may be the most persuasive.

What Is My Topic?

Some people freeze up at the thought of public speaking because they don’t know what to say. Deciding on a topic may bring back memories of English classes when asked to write an essay: “What do I write about?” This is a big step. Getting the main idea focuses the speech and allows the speaker to develop the important details related to the topic. The topic may be assigned to you or it may arise out of a business situation. Once you have your topic, with a little more thought the details fall into place.

Why Am I Giving this Speech?

This is the because of your speech, the reason you are presenting the information. All communication has a purpose. There are three main reasons for a speech: persuasion, entertainment, enlightenment. The three can and often are intermingled but one usually predominates. Persuasion seeks to change the audience’s mind. Entertainment provides laughter, joy, even compassion. Enlightenment seeks to tell them things they didn’t know.

Once you answer these questions, a speech begins to form. Standing before an audience certainly takes more than writing the speech, but these three questions give a speech its content and direction. Once they’ve been answered, it’s up to the speaker to breath life into them. Though stage fright still looms, answering these goes a long way to give any speaker confidence.

© 2024, Robert Weber, Words Done Right LLC

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February 12, 2024|

Give Me Liberty: Patrick Henry’s Rhetoric

Aristotle defined rhetoric as using all the available means of persuasion. Although not every speech is designed to persuade, let’s examine the rhetorical devices of a persuasive speech that has played a foundational role in our American experience: Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” He spoke to the Virginia House of Burgesses seeking to persuade them to organize a militia in order to fight against the British. (Link to the full speech)

Introduction: An Ethos of Experience

Using one of Aristotle’s pillars of persuasion (ethos or ethical conduct), Henry establishes his reasons for the issue upon his loyalty to the country and his desire not to be disloyal “toward the majesty of heaven.” Furthermore he draws on his personal “lamp of experience” to guide his thoughts. The other men in the audience (which included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson), by their own knowledge of Henry could determine if his claims to ethical purity were valid.

His speech also includes an appeal to his audience’s ethics. He gives his advice with the hope that, though some may disagree, he will be allowed to exercise his right of free speech: “. . . in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of debate.” Without a willingness to hear another side of the issue, we are challenged in today’s climate to face only resistance and shutting down opposing views, needless to say, not much of an ethical standard.


Henry proceeds to ask a series of question. For example, in response to the fleets and armies threatening the colonies, “Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation?” And further, “What have we to oppose them? Shall we try argument?” Technically these are not rhetorical questions because Henry answers them. However, he strings the questions and answers together to build his argument. “What terms shall we find that have not been already exhausted?” These questions and answers build his argument to conclude: “Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer.”

Repetition of Words

According to Ward Farnsworth in Classical English Rhetoric, repetition of words was a standard rhetorical practice. Although Henry adds his own twist to the technique, it still holds power. “What have petitioned, we have remonstrated, we have supplicated, we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; we have been spurned with contempt, from the foot of the throne.” He repeats each idea (italics are mine), and the effect, of course, was to convince his listeners that these attempts at averting conflict have not worked. The power of this device derives from repetition.

Reflecting the Opposition’s Argument

A common, effective technique in any persuasive argument is to mention the opposition’s argument in order to refute it. It gives credence to the speaker because the audience can know that he understands the opposition. In Henry’s case, the British think Americans are weak, and he uses their argument to challenge his fellow Virginians not to be frozen by irresolution and inaction.

An Image and an Allusion

He concludes with a challenging and almost ear-splitting image, “There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged. Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston!” He also alludes to a known literary masterpiece, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. As in Jeremiah’s day when some cried peace, peace where there was none, so here Patrick Henry sees that their situation is the same; there is no peace with the British. Thus in the face of submission to their demands, Henry commits to the cause of war. And despite what others may do, he says, “Give me liberty or give me death.”


Not only was Patrick Henry committed to the cause of the colonies, but he used his rhetoric to persuade his fellow Virginians to join the cause. It has been said that not all in the audience stood up, cheered, and enlisted in the militia, but even great rhetoric won’t convince some. However, such powerful rhetoric convinced some, challenged doubters, and delineated for history what were the issues of the day.

© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC

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December 2, 2023|

A Father Counsels His Son on Rhetoric, Part II

A Father Counsels His Sons How to Use Rhetoric in Family Life

Part II


Another area of the use of rhetoric is what the Roman orator Cicero called discussions about policy or the deliberative discussion. One domestic policy in our house concerned cleaning your rooms. Your room had be cleaned before you could go anywhere on Saturday, and it had to be done before a certain time. I found out that we needed to deliberate further on this policy by clarifying simple things like the meaning of clean. I had failed to account that we had developed different meanings of the same word.

Upon entering the allegedly cleaned room for inspection, I discovered this weakness in my rhetorical skills. There were no clothes on the floor, your desk appeared to be straightened up, and the bed was made, but then I opened the closet. Your closet floor had become the repository for all the dirty clothes—even the unfolded clean ones. I was amazed at how much you had crammed into the desk drawers, and I found your clean sheets stuffed under the bed. I should have known better but I asked anyway, “Do you call this clean?” Of course you did; that’s how you could announce that it was clean! Bill Cosby always thought his mother was an expert on pig-stys because after seeing his room she would exclaim, “This is the worst looking pig-sty I have ever seen.” I decided it best not to add that to the confusion.

In this you can see one of the prerequisites of persuasion: defining what your terms mean. What to you appeared clean was not clean as I expected it. Clean to you meant everything out of sight. Apple cores under the clothes, papers disorganized, and clothes out of sight in the closet seemed somehow perfectly logical to you. Words have meaning, and policy statements about clean rooms need to be spelled out long before persuasion can begin.


Other policy issues will depend on developing your rhetorical skills. Think about how you plan to tell your thirteen-year-old daughter that she is not allowed to wear make-up yet or that your sons or daughters alike are not allowed to bring members of the opposite sex home unless you or your spouse is home. Although Cicero spoke of the faculties of Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory, and Delivery when putting together an argument, I must admit that I have no idea which of those will work to get your point across. I’m thinking some of these ancient philosophers should have a warning label attached to their writings: NOT FOR USE WITH TEENAGERS.

Actually at some point in your relationship with your children after particularly exasperating attempts to persuade, cajole, and bribe, you’ll discover the greatest rhetorical statement ever invented by parents. You’ll utter that age-old, time-tested phrase to end all arguments: “Because I said so!” End of discussion. You haven’t actually countered their objections or contradicted their persuasive tactics. However, you have brought general quiet back to the house. Again, Bill Cosby, “Parents don’t want justice. Parents want quiet.” (Hey, who needs those ancient philosophers?)

Beware, however, of using this tactic with your sixteen-year-old sons. At sixteen they will most likely be bigger and stronger than you, but hopefully you have fully vetted your credibility with them in order to prevent them from engaging that most dangerous of all growing male attributes: testosterone. The credibility so valued by Aristotle in a speaker just may save your life.


There is, however, a time when no amount of rhetoric will help you. Perish the thought, but there may come a time when you forget your wife’s birthday or worse your anniversary. Flowers and promising her dinner at her favorite restaurant will help, but they will not get you very far. You will need to resort to delivery of words defined in rhetoric as “the graceful regulation of voice, countenance, and gesture.” The most important thing to exhibit in your voice is fear, in your countenance shame, and in your gesture, your head well below the head of the queen, in other words, groveling with your face to the floor eating dirt. However, there are two words that can be very persuasive: “I’m sorry.” They must be said with Aristotle’s three-fold appeals in mind. They must have credibility; they must appeal to her emotionally; they must be truthful (hint: you have to be sincere). Uttered profusely with flowers, dinners, and gifts in their wake, she may yet be persuaded to forgive you.

And so you see, my sons, that rhetoric is not something merely discussed in ivy towers and college classrooms. You will need to recognize how to persuade your family and how they try to persuade you; an understanding of rhetoric will help. Yet I still recommend the following advice. Let your overall demeanor be one of kindness, your love be apparent, and your words be few. When rhetoric fails, these won’t.



© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC

November 8, 2023|

A Father Counsels His Son on the Uses of Rhetoric

During my years as a minister, I often did premarital counseling. I liked it because I believe in strong marriages, and one good way to build them is to counsel young couples about what makes a marriage work. I spent a lot of time on communication: how to get your point across clearly and with the right tone of voice, how to understand your spouse’s personality and speaking style, even how not to overwhelm each other with too many words.

During that time, I came to realize that rhetoric, the ability to speak well, isn’t just an outdated educational ornament but rather something we use every day. With that in mind, this article is my somewhat light-hearted attempt to help us realize that we use rhetoric even in our family life. (This was written before Bill Cosby’s dark side was revealed, but I hope you’ll forgive my references to some of his statements. Despite his flaws, hopefully, he still can make us laugh.)

This is part I of II, and these two articles are a preamble to a series on parenting. Strong marriages demand not only good communication but also good parenting. I will post the first of seven articles on parenting during the week of November 13. You will find these articles on The Lazarus Chronicles blog (

A Father Counsels His Sons How to Use Rhetoric in Family Life

Part I

To my sons,

As you move into the next phase of your lives, I want to advise you on the importance of rhetoric. Defined as the art of speaking well or more specifically the art of persuasion, it lends itself to many aspects of family life. Since the goal of rhetoric is to persuade, words are the primary tool. You’ll notice how quickly that children learn to use words to get their way; this is rhetoric. Although some ancient writers admitted that rhetoric could be found everywhere: in the courts, in politics, even in the home, they didn’t offer advice for mothers and fathers on how to rhetorically manage household affairs.

Children have an uncanny knack for knowing some tricks even the ancient philosophers didn’t know. Although one ancient teacher, Quintilian, believed that rhetoric and oratory should be pursued because the ability to speak and reason is inherent in the human and therefore a good thing, when you hear your children speak, you’ll at times be more likely to agree with a more modern philosopher, Bill Cosby, that children’s ability to speak and reason is an indication of brain damage. He finds this a suitable answer for the absurdities and persuasive tactics that come from the mouth of these little word machines. I just tend to think that children are born lobbyists.


To Aristotle credibility was one of the first elements necessary for effective persuasion. Quintilian and Plato said much the same thing, “true eloquence could be possessed only by a good and just man.” How much more important could this be with little eyes soaking in all that they see and little ears ready to repeat what you told the salesman on the phone who called for the tenth time. Yes, I am suggesting that you will need to be the example and have the credibility to demand of them only what you are willing to do yourself.

For years fatherhood has operated on the grand assumption that kids should “do what I say, not what I do.” Excuse me, but did I just hear the ancients rolling over in their graves? This tantalizing rationale falls flattest when your children are sitting at the table and one of them asks, “Daddy what does _____ mean?” After choking on your food, you will want to know where they heard that. “You and your friends kept saying it when you were watching football last week,” they might respond. On second thought you don’t want to know where they heard that.

And furthermore do not labor under another grand assumption that young adults often say, “I’ll never do what my parents did!” Children see, hear, and speak things you don’t want them to see, hear, and speak. They will do what you do even when they grow up. Credibility counts.


Since dinner is often the time when families talk a lot, think about it as a rhetorical classroom. I remember the night we first fed you sweet potatoes. You refused to eat them. We tried to appeal to you with one of the first tools of rhetoric: logic. In this case we believed we had good reasons for eating them. “Sweet potatoes are good for you,” we reasoned. All appeals to your health didn’t work so we tried another means of persuasion. “But it’s a sweet potato,” thinking of course that you would see the logic of eating something with word sweet in the title. We even pointed out the sugar and marsh mellows in the recipe; it was more like dessert. No deal. Logic got us nowhere.

Then there was the broccoli soup. Your rationale for not eating the soup was, “I can’t eat this because it’s too ugly.” Seriously, did Aristotle and his ilk ever imagine the logic of a child? Persuading children to eat the right foods does involve the use of logic, but I wouldn’t depend on it too much when the taste buds are involved. Had I known more about rhetoric at the time, I might have realized you were using it against me. A good persuader can use aesthetic qualities inherent in his subject matter to appeal to his listeners. Typical parent that I was I failed to appreciate your perceived lack of beauty in broccoli soup.

The Roman philosopher Cicero noted that one of the causes where rhetoric should function well was the judicial arena. What better context to discuss the issue of justice than when desserts were served. I remember how quickly you and your brother spotted injustice: “How come his chocolate cake is bigger than mine?” I tried to make you face reality with by appealing to a truth you needed to know: “life isn’t always fair.” Evidently the appeal of chocolate cake prevented you from subscribing to this philosophical truth. If you ever wondered how the notion of the “fair share” got into vogue, perhaps you should look no further than to realize that when they were children some adults didn’t get the same size piece of cake as their siblings.

Tune in next week for Part II.

© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC and The Lazarus Chronicles

October 31, 2023|

Cicero: Integrity in Public Speaking

Among the many ancient masters of rhetoric in the Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero. He was a lawyer and statesman during the days when Rome transitioned from a republic of laws to a dictatorship under the Caesars. He lived from 106 to 43 BC, and wrote extensively on rhetoric, philosophy, and politics. His determination to hold fast his integrity and to criticize those that he felt did not uphold the laws of Rome ended in his assassination at the hands of Marc Antony. Those of us interested in the value of public speaking should be favorably disposed to men like him. His integrity and his writings on rhetoric provide us a wealth of information on public speaking skills. 

Pillar of Iron

A good look at the life of Cicero can begin with a novel by Taylor Caldwell, A Pillar of Iron. Not only has this author established herself as a great novelist, but she has written several novels about famous people from the distant past: the Apostle Paul, and Luke the writer of the Gospel of Luke. Her insights into the life of Cicero can be traced to her extensive research into his life and writings.

Caldwell does not hide his blemishes, but the life of a man who sought to maintain his integrity, loved a society based on just laws, and knew how to effectively persuade audiences should be studied and imitated for the good he did. For public speakers of any age, Cicero’s writings on rhetoric are ageless.

Personality versus Integrity

It has been said that today, we have transitioned from a society that once valued integrity to one that celebrates personality. We love charisma. We are easily attracted to people who have it. Dare I say we are enamored with their presence and ability to garner our support only because on some innate power of their personality?

In Caldwell’s book, we find that Cicero plays the foil to one of the most charismatic figures of Rome, Julius Caesar. Interestingly enough, the two men grew up together, and though lifelong friends, Cicero opposed Caesar’s ambitions.

The Cult of Personality

Hollywood does not maintain a foothold on elevating personality over integrity. Today’s public speakers are often masters of elevating themselves because of the power of their personality. Even some churches fall prey to this. To be successful in some theological circles seems to demand the high-powered and energetic magnetism displayed by those who can create a frenzy of excitement.

Although Cicero persuaded by using the power and eloquence of words, he didn’t sacrifice his integrity just to please his audiences. By reading Caldwell’s book, anyone desiring to present their ideas to the public or to their business associates will benefit from reading about the life of one of the most famous orators of all time.

In later posts I will provide insights into Cicero’s rhetorical advice. Below, I’ve included his theory of rhetoric as well as several of his many quotes. Hopefully this will stir your interest. In the meantime, I recommend A Pillar of Iron to anyone wishing to follow in the footsteps of one of masters of public speaking.

© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC

Quotes by Marcus Tullius Cicero: orator philosopher, and Roman statesman

Cicero defines rhetoric as the art of speaking and writing in a way that is effective, persuasive, and convincing. [I am and advocate of the close connection between speaking and writing.]

“Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.”

It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.”

Nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable than fidelity. Faithfulness and truth are the most sacred excellences and endowments of the human mind.”

The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct.”

To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”

October 26, 2023|

Assertions Are Not Arguments: William Wilberforce Provides Reasons for His Proposal

When I taught one of my writing classes, the students were required to write an argument paper. However, many of them could not differentiate between an argument and an assertion or statement. An article in Salvo Magazine demonstrated that even some textbooks can’t tell the difference (here). An assertion is a statement. An argument takes the statement and presents evidence to support the statement. I was amazed how many students asserted a belief but provided no sound reasons why they believed something or, more importantly, how they expected their readers to accept their proposition.

Though I’ve referred to William Wilberforce in another post, this week I look at one of his first speeches that exposed the inhuman treatment of slaves in 18th century Britain (read the speech here). As the reader may imagine, there were people with a great deal of financial interest who resisted abolition, not to mention their belief that Africans were an inferior race. I believe that Wilberforce had to marshal not only his oratorical skills but the facts of his case in order to persuade his audience. In other words, assertions weren’t sufficient; he focused on facts from eyewitnesses and facts from government documents to present his case to Parliament.

Wilberforce’s Argument

He begins by stating that the need to abolish the slave trade was vital, and he hoped that all his listeners would be of the same opinion by the end of his presentation. He appeals to their “cool and impartial reason,” and doesn’t attempt to place blame on those who disagree but on himself, all of Parliament, and the British nation as a whole. He believed that there was shared guilt for allowing such a shameful and inhuman practice to continue. By beginning this way, he doesn’t inflame the resistance of his argument, and he doesn’t engage in an ad hominem argument.

The Middle Transit

The middle transit referred to the travel of the slave ships from ports in Africa to the West Indies. It was this portion of the slave trade that became the subject of this particular speech (read the full speech here). There had been eyewitness testimony of the terrible treatment of slaves once they reached the sugar plantations. Dr. James Ramsey had seen it firsthand, and he came back to England and immediately joined the abolition movement. However, Wilberforce focuses his argument about the treatment of Africans onboard the slave ships.

The biggest misinformation campaign came from one of the Liverpool delegates. A Mr. Norris painted a rosy picture of the treatment of slaves on board the ships. First, he insisted that accommodations were suitable and comfortable, even perfumed with pleasant aromas from frankincense and lime juice, and they are given water to wash. Second, they were fed well. Third, they were provided with amusements such as song, dance, and games of chance. The women and girls are also given items to entertain themselves with crafts.

Evidence to the Contrary

Here is where Wilberforce’s argument turns to the facts of his case. Having begun with statements proposed by the slave trading industry, he presents facts from both eyewitnesses and official documents contradicting his opponent. Physicians who visited the slave ships had testified that slaves are stowed so close together, there is no room to step around them. Frankincense, really? One Sir George Yonge testified that the stench where the slaves were accommodated was intolerable. Other doctors who had visited the ships could barely breath from the foul air.

The singing and dancing alluded to by Mr. Norris was true . . . sort of. Another eyewitness, a sailor, testified that slaves were forced to dance by the “terror of the lash,” and the songs were mournful cries of anguish at leaving their homeland, not happy sounds of joy. Finally, the proportion of deaths on the ships which was gathered from official documents loaned even more evidence to the false testimony about how the slaves were treated.

Wilberforce knew there was a moral and religious case for abolishing the slave trade, there were times in other speeches he developed that argument further. However, in this first salvo against the trade, he showed them the facts of how slaves were treated, and appealed to the necessity of the abolition of slavery because doing so was founded in “rectitude and universal benevolence.” Furthermore, he concluded by appealing to the Divine Doctrine, “That sympathy is the great source of humanity.”

The Long Fight

I write this to demonstrate the importance of making a valid argument with facts and evidence. “Facts are stubborn things,” quipped John Adams, our second president. Thus Wilberforce used facts to contradict his opponents. Without them, he could have simply made plenty of assertions about his religious belief as the great reason for his cause. Those would have been legitimate reasons, but we have to be amazed that he focused primarily on demonstrating the inhumane facts about what was going on.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that even with such persuasive force, the trade did not immediately end. About two and a half decades would pass before Parliament outlawed the trading of human beings, and it would not be for another decade and a half that slaves in all of the British empire would be emancipated.

Some things don’t change quickly, whether because of money, an entrenched ideology, a bad habit, or an accepted, but evil, societal norm. Although Wilberforce at times had an inflated optimism that things would change soon, he also knew that developing a legitimate argument was the first step.

© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC

October 20, 2023|

Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech

Great speeches have always been one of the mediums that disseminate information, provide guidance, and mark seminal moments in history. Histories of ancient cultures often provide speeches to help understand the issues in wars and other significant events. Think of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most important description of Christian living, or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.


Winston Churchill was known for his stirring speeches that guided England through the dark days of WWII. The 2017 film, Darkest Hour, provides insight to Churchill and the dangers posed by Nazi Germany. With bulldog determination Churchill fights not only the coming threat of Germany but also his own government’s lack of nerve to stand up to Hitler’s designs of world conquest. In his own characteristic wit, he challenges those who wanted to negotiate with Hitler by saying, “You can’t negotiate with the lion with your head in his mouth.”

After WWII, though he lead his country through the horrors of the war, he was not elected to another term as prime minister. His friendship with America continued, however, and President Truman invited Churchill to Fulton, MO, a small town in the Midwest where Westminster College was located. He gave a speech reflecting on the bonds between England and the U.S.

Big Speech, Small Town

His speech in Fulton provided Churchill an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances facing both nations. More importantly, it gave the world an image that characterized a war of ideas over the next several decades. For those who give or write speeches, the outline of his speech doesn’t show signs of unique structure or verbal pyrotechnics. Like many great speeches in history, his words characterized the moment.

A rough outline of the speech looks something like this:

  • Introduction and praise for his friends in the U.S.

  • An illustration: “Overall Strategic Concept”

  • Propositions applying the illustration to war and tyranny

  • Proposals to address them

  • Proposition about tyranny in Europe: the Iron Curtain

  • A plea to pay attention to this threat (He illustrates with his own experience when early on people paid no attention to the threat posed by Hitler.)

The Power of the Right Word at the Right Time

Churchill introduced us to the tyranny of Communism with an apt phrase, “iron curtain.” The phrase stuck and became part of the vocabulary of the Cold War with communist countries. Its power came from imagery characterizing the oppression of tyranny. Coming at the right moment in the history in a speech, Churchill’s phrase created a unique way of thinking about societies controlled by godless Communism.

A speech can have lasting influence. Speeches are powerful mediums for disseminating the right ideas at just the right time, and they can influence for good or evil. Make no mistake, some of the most evil people were great orators. Public speaking is a powerful medium. We should look to the Lincoln’s, the Churchill’s, and to Jesus as the models of using it for the good of society.

© 2023, Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC, WDR Blog

September 22, 2023|

Drowning in a Sea of Words

I consider three mistakes of writing to be my unholy trinity: incorrect grammar, clumsy sentence structure, and verbosity. Don’t criticize my title for this last mistake; I’m making a point. Bad writers as well as bad speakers clutter their communication with too many words.

Redundancies and Extraneous Words

  • Killed dead” – if you’re killed your dead.

  • I have the ability to run fast.” – I can run fast.

  • Older phones have become obsolete and outmoded.” – two words that mean the same thing.

  • Due to the fact that” – although

  • I was thinking in my mind.” – where else do you think?

  • Verbal diarrhea” – logorrhea: it really is a word and only one instead of two.

Logorrhea means “excessive and often incoherent talkativeness or wordiness.” It is a social media disease but just as much in legalese, academic writing, and government brochures. Each is notorious for overwhelming us with a barrage of incoherent words. Our rhetoric needs some tuning up and trimming down.

Rhetoric? Really?

Don’t resist rhetoric. An older educational model used the trivium as the foundation of education: logic, grammar, and rhetoric. Logic is the art of thinking; grammar is the art of inventing and combining words; rhetoric is the art of communication or using words to develop coherent thought. Aristotle considered rhetoric to be the art observing every available means of persuasion, but even if we aren’t trying to persuade someone, when we speak or write, we seek to communicate our ideas. That’s rhetoric.

Let’s set aside the notion that “empty rhetoric” is merely a redundancy. Many people think that, but we use rhetoric every day by combining our words to pass on our ideas. Rhetoric demands that we choose the right words. By definition, choosing means we pick some words and leave others to fend for themselves.

Drowning in Words

Today is not the only generation drowning in a sea of words. Three-thousand years ago, King Solomon wrote “Of the making of books there is no end,” Ecclesiastes 12:12. He also warned us that “many words mark the speech of a fool,” Ecclesiastes 5:3, and “much dreaming and many words are meaningless,” Ecclesiastes 5:7. Although he wasn’t just referring to writing that had not been appropriately trimmed of excess verbiage, his thoughts are still worth considering.

Communication isn’t just a notion left to writers and professional speakers. All of us write and speak to one degree or another. A good practice is to find a way not to overwhelm others, waste their time, or obscure a good idea with too many words.

© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC

September 16, 2023|


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