Sunday, November 30, 2014

Kairos Musings

Earlier in the semester, we discussed the essential components of a rhetorical situation, upon which our commons projects are based. With the presence of both exigence and an audience, a fitting response can be formed within the constraints and affordances that bound the situation. In particular, the fitting response, the be-all and end-all of the rhetorical situation (for it is the product that all the factors culminate to), requires decorum and kairos, or the ability to say the right thing(s) at the most opportune of moments.
Any convincing argument must have kairos. Necessity and/or haste may circumvent decorum (think of any disheveled man who has just rushed from there to here with some message of great importance), but the timing and the eloquence of kairotic responses is what actually convinces people.
The most clear-cut example I can offer is a brief scene in the Harry Potter series, during which Harry attempts to convince Professor Horace Slughorn to relinquish an unaltered memory. Harry's private conversation with Slughorn is guided by the luck potion he's drunk, which in one instance prompts him to speak a certain something, and in another prompts him to wait and allow Slughorn to mull over his options, and through these minute alterations in how he would normally speak, Harry is successful in his endeavor where he might have failed. Additionally, to find real life examples, one needs to look no further than romance, in which the wrong things said at the wrong time leads to an awkward silence at best and violence at worst, whereas a charmer can win over the heart and mind of his or her beloved with just the right gesture or wordplay.
Kairos is ever more relevant in today's world, in which we have the ability to produce a simultaneously instantaneous and everlasting message. Heinrichs himself mentions that timing is integral to appealing to an audience. It is also one of the determining factors in choosing the best medium to express a message, depending on the audience's expectations and how long the message should last (pg 238).
Ironically, it's been observed that having an instant reply via text or social media has spoiled us by making silence an unpleasant experience. We've all had that experience, where the conversation drops off right in the middle, as one person or the other has to deal with real life, and to the other the silence may come off as being ignored or snubbed. People used to wait months for a hand-written letter with outdated news and warm wishes. Some would say this demonstrates a breakdown in culture, others point out that it might well be just a harmless side effect of extraordinary new technologies. Personally, I'll say it is what it is, and wash my hands of the debate. But what I do think is it is imperative to think before we speak, and also to think when we should speak, and in doing so opportunities will undoubtedly present themselves in greater abundance.

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