The Four Persuasive Strategies, by JD Meyer,
Edited and Hosted by Casey Cunningham
This is the first time I’ve chosen a major section from my textbook of Developmental English/Writing for the main part of a UU service, as opposed to something from Unitarian-Universalism or other compatible liberal religion or concept. I used a couple of short narrative essays as children’s stories previously. But I chose the Four Persuasive Strategies to be the main part of a service because I kept noticing how much they come up in real life as well as academia. Furthermore, it was one of the earliest sections that I adapted in my teaching career. I found the Four Persuasive Strategies in a Silver Burdett-Ginn textbook for middle school before my renaissance at Mountain View Community College in the west Oak Cliff part of Dallas. Naturally, I’ll show the strategies at work in some persuasive essays too.
Persuasive documents seem to have the best chance of influencing the world beyond academia, as opposed to narrative, descriptive, compare-and-contrast and whatnot. I found a couple of great definitions for “intellectual” and “public intellectual,” by Dr. Ali Mazrui, a Ugandan-born scholar who now teaches for the Institute of Global Studies in New York. Dr. Mazrui was cited as one of the world’s Top 100 public intellectuals, according to http://www.foreignpolicy.com . First, an intellectual is “a person who has the capacity to be fascinated by ideas and has acquired the skill to handle some of these effectively.” But a public intellectual “communicates ideas and influences debate outside of one’s own field.” Thus a letter to the editor of one’s hometown newspaper represents a modest and common effort to be a public intellectual.
The Four Persuasive Strategies are (1) Give an Example/Call for a Precedent, (2) Predict Results, (3) Prepare for or Respond to Objections, and (4) Demand for Fairness. A Chu Hsi style Neo-Confucian could say that these persuasive strategies allow us to investigate the principles of events or ko-wu. During my revisions of this talk, I recall that I referred to the Demand for Fairness strategy previously when I asserted that the Wiccan Rede, “Harm No One; Do What You Will,” captured the essence of the Golden Rule. Later I remembered that “For Jaded UU’s and Newcomers” implicitly contained a Prepare for Objections theme. This service was based on a blog at Belief Net by Barbara Bonhiver, a third generation UU at All Souls UU of New York City.
By the way, there are other possible persuasive strategy models. A Cal State website points to the writer’s character, logical arguments, and the emotions of the audience as the three ways to persuade.
Part 1: The Four Persuasive Strategies, Literary Criticism, and Fair Use.
Please check your program for the chart of the four persuasive strategies. At Texas College, I divided these four strategies into two categories. Time Orientation for Give an Example and Predict Results and Empathy Orientation for Prepare for Objections and Demand for Fairness. Then I added a focus for all four persuasive strategies. When we give an example, we are drawing upon the past or present. When we predict results, we are looking toward the future. You can make cause-and-effect arguments easily with the time orientation strategies. On the other hand, empathy means we understand how other people feel. Preparing for objections—the “Yes, but…argument”–has a heavy cognitive/justice dimension while the demand for fairness leans toward the affective/mercy dimension. Preparing for, or responding to objections, gives the other guy partial credit while the demand for fairness is the Golden Rule.
One can find persuasive statements that show characteristics of more than one of the four persuasive strategies; real life rarely falls into such neat categories. Moreover, book knowledge can’t be divorced from common sense that much either, particularly when it comes to career success. Writing success didn’t begin for me until a college instructor told me about writing every other line in a rough draft. Seeing the importance of revision came later, particularly with church services—to the point where I now feel like a “terrier with a slipper.”
With these tools, we can not only write a better persuasive essay but better comprehend current events and defend ourselves with words. Yes, successful persuasion includes a lot of common sense. To persuade means to change another person’s beliefs, actions, or some combination of the two. It is one of the three purposes of writing; the others are to inform and entertain, according to John Langan—the godfather of Developmental English and Reading A good way to recommend—a mild form of persuasion—is to use an “if…, then…” statement. I urged students to use such a statement in their conclusion paragraphs. We’re not supposed to give new information in the conclusion, but a recommendation still makes it as legal.
(1) Give an Example or Call for a Precedent is a way to cite something from the past or present in the hopes that something will happen again or won’t happen again. A key to spotting this strategy is seeing a reference from history. I knew that I had to read about James Luther Adams when Tom Stovall told us that Adams was the leading UU theologian of the 20th Century. Building on the past makes the progress of history possible. That remark reminds me of my old hero, Alfred North Whitehead—the founder of process theology. George Washington set a precedent by only serving two terms as president—something that was followed by all presidents until Franklin Roosevelt. Soon after FDR, the two-term limit became law. On the other hand, how many times have you heard that Hitler did the same dumb thing as Napoleon: attack Russia in winter with inadequate clothing?
(2) Predict Results means to offer an opinion of the future based on what’s happening now. This can be the most exciting strategy of all. The preseason football magazine industry is built on such thought, as is the new science of futurism. Here’s an example proofread by our friend Liza Ely about one of her favorite organizations, Pachamama: “I predict the Internet will continue to connect people based on shared interests and it will serve to correct the excesses of multinational capitalism. For example, one of the Pachamama Movement website groups is dedicated to environmental sustainability, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment. This includes preserving the rain forest and educating the industrialized world on the consequences of their choices. Another Pachamama group advertises the work of third world artisans.” Remember the recent service on community building that Liza Ely did
with Dr. Eric Best? Communities can exist on-line when they bring people together for a purpose and promote harmony. I just discovered in an old Nichiren Shoshu/Soka Gakkai booklet that the Chinese word “te” as in Tao Te Ching, not only means “strength” but also “character, leadership, and karma”—aka. cause and effect, you reap what you sow—hmmm.
(3) Prepare for/Respond to Objections is what we do when we anticipate the other guy’s arguments. It’s what a fair teacher does when (s) he gives partial credit. It’s what the quarterback does when he calls an audible at the line of scrimmage if he seems something unexpected. Picture this assertion, “Yes we should get an urban planning team and ask for community input, but if we don’t hire some out-of-state consultants, we could easily return to the same old inbred ideas.” That’s my summary of our Tyler 21 economic development project. I contributed to the Northside Revitalization group frequently. Remember when I called it the “Yes, but” strategy? If you point out some similarities in your critic’s thought, you may be seen in a better light. I remember there was a book series that proclaimed, “Those who don’t know their opponents’ arguments don’t completely understand their own.” Have you heard that Bible verse about the specks in two people’s eyes? I’d like to update that passage by saying, “Don’t make fun of someone’s glasses frames when you need new bifocals.”
(4) Demand for Fairness is the Golden Rule—doing to others because that’s what we want done to us or don’t want it done to us. Here’s an example of Calling for Fairness that I sent to one of the Obama websites: “I would like to see the Afghan people have the chance to develop windmill technology because of their incredible windy season, and so a third World country won’t end up like us—full of air pollution.” Afghanistan’s famed mountains and valleys create a windy land. Part Four of this service will show this strategy in action frequently.
In my seventh edition, I added an extra section after the Four Persuasive Strategies called, “Literary Criticism: Advanced Persuasion,” based on The Crisis of Criticism, an anthology of essays by Maurice Berger. Criticism must evolve or it will atrophy, shriveling due to lack of use or tired re-runs. Berger asserts that the strongest criticism can actually offer hope for that field’s future, as it can “engage, guide, direct, and influence culture.” The criticism can inspire and stimulate new forms of expression.
This spring I encountered a USC website: the Stevens Institute of Innovation http://www.stevens.usc.edu, and it taught me about fair use of copyright and proved what Berger predicted. Fair use means the proper use of copyrighted material, not plagiarism. A key trial showed that fair use is transformative—a new form of expression. Two Live Crew successfully defended themselves in a law suit versus the producers of Roy Orbison’s song, “Pretty Woman.” The court declared that despite the rap band borrowing the chorus, the stanzas made a parody or satire of the chorus: a proper transformative work of the older musician’s song. I might add that such modern snickering may have the appearance of a rougher mentality, but it actually provides a moral lesson missing from our naïve would-be “tamer of the shrew. Above all, I was relieved to discover that my pronoun use chapter section was indeed transformative—something that had been in the back of my mind for months.
Returning to Berger, he warns that criticism at its worst is when it sinks into the narrow world of provinciality—a lack of relevance to the world at large or I may add—a watered-down version of it. On the other hand, the “shock jocks” like Imus and Howard Stern mistake freedom of speech for license without responsibility, to paraphrase an assertion from the hip-hop address of 2001. Casey noted that the shock jocks may not even have a desire to use real persuasion but are “playing to the already convinced.” The bad side of conservatism is when they act as censors, telling us who should not be in our gospel of inclusion because our heroes are subhuman or heretics.
Maybe time or good public relations are the only things separating what is considered orthodox or “out there.” We can read in Belief Net about the spiritual nature of the late Beatle, George Harrison, and how he popularized yoga. But did you know that a singer named Bruce Dickinson also flies jets for a British airline? Bruce also has a BBC radio talk show, was a leading fencer, wrote two novels, and narrated science programs for Discovery UK—despite being the lead vocalist for Iron Maiden, a leading British heavy metal band. Don’t worry, I wrote a brief biographical sketch of this intelligent musician in the appendix of my textbook and put it among my nearly twenty articles at http://www.associatedcontent.com –giant freelance journalism website. The ad hominem argument was the only logical fallacy that I defined in my developmental textbook because logical fallacies traditionally are covered in College Composition, the next English class. Ad hominem arguments attack the person rather than the action itself.
Part 2: Unitarian-Universalist Views of Evil
This would be a great time and place to endorse my current favorite UU brochure. It’s “Unitarian-Universalist Views of Evil.” I’ve been highlighting and making notes from this flyer. Sure I’m familiar with our Seven Principles, like upholding the dignity of the individual. But I really wanted to learn some of our officially sanctioned views of badness, so that I can understand and deal with people more effectively. I found myself coming up with some rather medieval reasons for human badness that didn’t do me any good in an absence of knowing some views on this topic by UU ministers. I saw the results, so I wanted some examples to follow.
One statement by Victoria Safford really sunk-in: Evil is “the degree of heartbreak…a sense that something has been blasted apart the collapse of what we thought was true about the world and human nature.” She sees this heartbreak more than the magnitude or cold-heartedness of the event as her main criteria for assessing evil. Of course, the other two are important as well. Paul Razor, the editor of the pamphlet stated that evil is “a reality to respond to and confront” and includes “unnecessary human suffering, not inevitable.” “Our choices matter: We can either enable or ignore the evil around us, or we can help overcome it.”
Patrick O’Neill observes that UU theological starting point is the dignity of the individual and liberating the human spirit from narrow thought and lifeless creed–not the degradation of a fallen species. But people are only inclined to do good roughly “three-out-of-five times on the average, but those few degrees are the difference between peace and Armageddon. Press down for good,” proclaims O’Neill. Elizabeth Lerner brings up the Greek views on order versus chaos. Change can prevent stagnation. “But too much chaos keeps any system from the ability to nurture, protect, or cherish. Chaos attacks or debases goodness and meaning,” according to Lerner.
Part 3: Persuasive Essays, the Strategies Within, and Pleasant Surprises
My textbook has been a long-term ongoing project. The first edition was a tiny 47 pages in ’97. The seventh edition of ‘08 reached 275 pages; 100 pages were added after leaving TC in ’06. The Persuasive chapter has model essays to go along with the persuasive strategies, essay prompts, and test-taking skills, as one would expect. Let’s look at examples of persuasive statements from some essays and the strategies behind them.
Some of the essays have extensive footnoting, like “Get Out of the Gutter, Wilonsky,” a letter to the editor of the Dallas Observer that was never published. I wrote a fiery letter to the editor because Robert Wilonsky wrote a destructive criticism on heavy metal and its fans. Let’s look at a few of my critiques. Metal introduced “good soldier, not war criminal” lyrics to popular music—quite a precedent. Wilonsky seemed angry that Aska, a local glam metal band, had a contract to play at military bases. He even surmised that the only thing metal fans hated worse than their life was yours. Wilonsky makes himself into the raging sociopath that he can’t stand—way beyond unfair. Now that’s a good statement to remember if you’re about to throw a fit of righteous indignation! Then he claimed that all music is a cheap knock-off of what preceded them. I countered with a perspective from Alfred North Whitehead that the idea of evolution or concrescence would bewilder or turnoff Wilonsky; furthermore, alternative rock wouldn’t show such frequent resemblances to HR/HM if the latter were indeed dead. Those two statements resemble the time-oriented persuasive strategies.
On the other hand, my letter to the Tyler paper was accepted back in Spring ’07—a rebuttal of English immersion being the answer for limited English speakers’ language learning. The Tyler, Texas newspaper editorial board apparently wanted to see ESOL and Bilingual Education programs destroyed. My essay concluded on a kindly, fair note: “Maybe one way to assess an argument in education is to see if its proponents have something joyful to say about teaching and being with students.” I moved this essay to the compare-and-contrast chapter next to a similar essay written a decade earlier. The only statement that the two essays had in common was a reference to the high rate of functional illiteracy among native-born Americans. Some folks claim that book knowledge and common sense have nothing in common, as if teaching subject-verb agreement is no different from staking your career hopes on the mastery of ancient Sanskrit. Choosing effective topics for study involves common sense.
About 10% of my textbook is edited student essays, and they all have the subtitle, “The Students Take Over.” The only student essay in the persuasive chapter is “My Favorite Music: Chopped, Screwed Dirty South Rap.” I concluded that the chopped innovation; that is, taking a famous chorus from a non-rap genre and writing rap stanzas around it, could be one of the greatest musical innovations of modern times. Once in a therapeutic moment, I wrote a bilingual song in which I lifted the chorus from “Y Todo Para Que” (And All for What) by mega norteno-tejano band, Intocable, and wrapped some rap stanzas in English to create the song, “You Try to Make Me English Only.” Sometimes it’s good to proclaim a precedent in a different friendly audience from the other choir you’ve been preaching to.
And now, let’s look at some pleasant surprises from my post-TC days. I used to feel that I wouldn’t be comfortable teaching a predominantly literature English class in high school since I was so adjusted to the grammar-composition focus of Developmental English. Furthermore, I still believe that the top-heavy literature component of high school English has created weak skills in grammar and composition. Nevertheless, I had a great time subbing in two classes when two Roman works were being studied. I alerted these classes to the four persuasive strategies inherent in Marc Antony’s eulogy of Julius Caesar and Medea by Archimedes—the latter a long-term assignment. Casey suggested that I look at these texts for a follow-up service, or maybe this one.
Part 4: Street Frustrations
However, my latest revision of the post-chapter quiz omitted questions best classified as revealing “street frustrations,” not something we should have in a textbook, unlike a narcocorrido. But maybe we should talk about one of them in church. For example, “charge it to the game,” includes accepting the sad reality that some associates will steal from you and lie to you and probably do the same to anybody else. So my former question asked, “If you think ‘charge it to the game’ is nothing but a rationalization for lying and stealing, then your persuasive strategy is…Fill in the Blank. Demand for Fairness.” On the other hand, ‘charge it to the game’ addresses that you put yourself or been put in harm’s way. Thus we face a statement that unites an “anti-fairness” strategy with a response to objections strategy. Analyzing that one was pure induction!
Here’s a demand for fairness that I kept, and it’s from the Keynote Address of the 2001 Hip-Hop Summit in New York City, convened by Russell Simmons: “Every time you use your rap song against another rapper and the magazines publish your words, the people you love then turn on the people you have spoken against. (With) leadership comes responsibility. You did not ask for it, it is imposed on you, but now you have to accept responsibility that you have never accepted.” There were a few feuds between rival rappers several years ago that got quite ugly.
How do I cope with the concept, “People will take your kindness for weakness,” in light of the Golden Rule? It sounds purely devilish at first glance. However Confucius wrote, “Goodness without a love of learning leads to simplemindedness.” For me, this means visiting with whomever shows up first instead of making the plans or effort to see the friends that you like the most. Extroversion has its drawbacks. I admitted to that difficulty in my textbook.
I find it intriguing that my potentially controversial examples were mostly representatives of the Demand for Fairness strategy, or what we UU’s would label as the dignity of the individual.
One weekday morning on C-Span, they had a hearing on the trade with Cuba issue. On the Call for a Precedent side, someone mentioned that all the big countries trade with Cuba like China, Japan, Brazil, the European Union, and more—so why shouldn’t we? On the other hand, Cuba is weak on the human rights issues to the point where they have stolen copyrights! So the Predict Results camp says that we need to withhold some goodies from Cuba, so they will change. We don’t have to do what everybody else does.
Next time besides those two Roman stories, I’d like to do a follow-up that examines the definition of “soft power,” by Harvard political science professor, Dr. Joseph Nye. Soft power is non-coercive persuasion that can be used by people and nations, and it reminds me of one of Adams’s Soft Stones of Liberalism. I discovered soft power in the Great Decisions book for 2009.
You can tell that those four persuasive strategies are ever-present in my brain—just waiting to tackle data from the outside world and make sense of it. To close, “If you enjoyed hearing about Meyer’s revamped Silver Burdett Ginn’s Four Persuasive Strategies, then use them yourself in your quest to make sense of the world, see the sacred in the secular, and the deceiver at the gathering.” Let’s have a feedback question-and-answer period, so the conclusion really doesn’t happen until you in the congregation have your chance for clarification. Thank you.