This is What Public Speakers Can Learn from Aristotle’s Greatest Mistake

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Spoiler Alert: I can only reveal once you fully appreciate the useful parts of Aristotle’s idea.

Have you ever had to – or will you ever have to – speak in front of an audience? It could have been (or be) an audience of one hundred or an audience of one. In either case, you may have noticed what happens when you’re in the audience watching other people speak. Sometimes you enjoy the presentation, sometimes you’re bored to tears. And it’s not based on the nature of the subject.

Here’s why.

Most speakers employ some variation of Aristotle’s Model of Communication. While roughly based on his Treatise on Rhetoric, it does not directly incorporate the persuasive tools Aristotle outlines in that classic volume. Indeed, neither does it involve the five canons of rhetoric, although this makes more sense since Cicero identified them centuries after Aristotle’s death.

Still, despite the lack of these important communication components, there’s another, more important, reason why Aristotle’s Model of Communication often fails. To best grasp the reason for this failure – and how to either avoid it or take advantage of it – you need to understand why this model has been both popular and effective.Continue Reading “This is What Public Speakers Can Learn from Aristotle’s Greatest Mistake”

The Aging Curse

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I sit here watching as Rob Lowe tells us in so many words of the highs and lows of the decade of the 1980s. As I view old news clips of thin ties and big bouncing perms with their constant fluttering curls, I sadly lament the innocence lost, the people lost, the dreams lost. I see in those once thin and optimistic faces the images of people I have known. Not all of them, but far too many.

In those faces I saw the hope for the future, a future that would never be. I lament those souls of time past. Perhaps it’s the need for the National Geographic Channel to turn every story – real or imagined – into a cathartic Greek tragedy. As I reflect, though, I come to realize that perhaps the Greeks were right after all. All life is hubris. And hubris leads to downfall. Catharsis becomes necessary to cleanse that hubris from our psyche.

Without this purification, dreams go unachieved. The temptations of everyday life divert us. They lure us from our critical path to success. They take us away from what we truly aspire to be. Instead, they have us accept the shallow trappings of a material world.

“Whoever dies with the most toys wins,” read a popular bumper sticker from the 1980s. Those who lived by this “Greed is Good” credo may have found success in the short-term. As I see the cavalcade of faces float across my television screen, however, I see faces that weren’t realizing their own dreams, but living the false siren of Madison Avenue. Rather than becoming the elite they so imagined themselves to be, they reduced themselves to that hoi polloi they so loathed.

And so I go on, listening to the serious voice of a dire Rob Lowe recount what I had lived through. I’m compelled by the desire to go back in time, grab the lapels attached to those buoyant yet naïve smiles, and shake them in hopes of breaking that evil spell.

Then I remember, that message was always there. Again, it was the hustle and bustle of the unyielding rat race that spoke in volumes loud enough to captivate so many. Those faces had to try very hard to hear the message that would lead them to their dreams. You can’t blame them if the distracting din proved too flashy. You shouldn’t blame them.

What you can do is learn from history, learn from the mistakes of others.

It begins with recognizing the traps wasn’t merely wanton materialism. That’s easy to identify. Most of us no longer idealize Madonna’s “Material Girl” and therefore don’t fall for the feckless lure of the material world.

Believe it or not, there’s a trap much sneakier than materialism. It is the antithesis of such flamboyance. It is mundane. It is routine. It is the run-of-the-mill activity you experience each and every day. That omnipresent “to-do” list that governs your very being. That’s what keeps you from achieving your dreams.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” You’ve probably heard this quote many times. In 1957, Reader’s Digest attributed this adage to Allen Saunders, a cartoonist of such serials as “Steve Roper,” “Mary Worth,” and “Kerry Drake.” If you think about it, the quote fits perfectly in the “organization man” era of post-World War II America (William Whyte’s bestselling book by that name came out in 1956). In the 1950s, it wasn’t so much Madison Avenue that called the shots as it was the corporate boardroom.

Although the anti-establishment mandate of the 1960s and the entrepreneurial era of the 1980s effectively muted the stultifying bondage of the organization man, the feeling never quite left us. Two major recessions (1991 and 2008/2009) curbed our economic enthusiasm. Those events caused us to fall back into the familiar comfort of the organizational cocoon. So we make plans on how to survive from day-to-day.

Today, we subordinate our long-term dreams for the perceived imperatives of the short-term. Go back to that to-do list for a moment. Image the delight you feel when you cross off an item. It pleases you. It inspires you to take the action required to cross off another item.

This is quite natural behavior. It’s the basis of most games. It’s what leads to success. It’s what makes us achieve our dreams.

So, what’s holding us back?

It’s the composition of that to-do list. If the tasks consist only of day-to-day “needs,” then when it’s all said and done, you’ll look back sorrowfully at a life spent merely spinning wheels.

On the other hand, take a moment and consider your long-term dreams. What is the sequence of milestones you need to accomplish to make that dream a reality? Now, imagine your to-do list consists of a healthy mixture of your daily tasks and your long-term tasks (hint: start small with the latter). This allows you to use the immediate gratification of crossing off those short-term tasks to motivate you to begin crossing off those long-term tasks. Doing this will propel you towards your lifetime dreams.

It’s the curse of getting older that you see with sadness the lost dreams of so many. In contrast, it’s a blessing that age permits you to learn from the success of others, from those who have achieved their dreams.

It’s not rocket science. It’s discipline.

The kind of discipline we are all capable of.

Uncertainty Breeds Opportunity

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Uncertainty creates anxiety. It doesn’t have to be that way. For gamblers, warriors, and investors, uncertainty signals opportunity.

Your opponents sitting across the card table from you don’t know the hand you’re holding. Skilled players learn to take advantage of this uncertainty by bluffing their way to higher jackpots. These players accomplish this by both encouraging those with lesser hands to call their bets and intimidating those with better hands to fold. Expert poker players study how to marshall, disguise, and portray their emotions in ways to fool their opponents. That’s how gamblers win.

Similarly, seasoned generals understand the fog of war offers the opportunity to mask Continue Reading “Uncertainty Breeds Opportunity”

50 Years Ago When the Earth First Rose

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It was the first time I flew in a plane. It was the first time I skipped school. It was the first time we took a “real” family vacation.

It would be the first time we wouldn’t be home for Christmas. It would be the first time we’d be having Christmas with no snow. It would be the first time a young astronomy enthusiast would discover his own Christmas “Stars.”

December 1968. California still had a sparkle of promise. When all those who defined cool were still busying themselves leaving on the last train for the coast.

We weren’t leaving. We were just visiting. Courtesy of American Airlines. The excitement derived from all those firsts overshadowed the fact we wouldn’t be spending the Holy Day with the extended family we grew up with. On the other hand, my father no doubt looked Continue Reading “50 Years Ago When the Earth First Rose”

George and Me

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Bush turned to me and said, “C’mon, let’s put our arms around each other to show everyone we’re friends.”

You may not remember this. Leonard Zelig was the kind of ordinary everyday man who  you’d expect to live an ordinary everyday life. Somehow, though, he managed to find himself regularly appearing with extraordinary celebrated people during extraordinary celebrated events. Leonard Zelig isn’t a real person. Never was. Yet Woody Allen’s brilliant 1983 mockumentary Zelig left theater-goers thinking he was.

It seems like we all have our Leonard Zelig moments. We live each ordinary day in an ordinary way. Then, fate brings us face-to-face with extraordinary people in extraordinary times. Think about the times you’ve found yourself at the same shop with a movie or TV star – someone who seems so distant because our only connection to them is through some unapproachable media context. When we’re young, that can be a very exciting thing. As we age, we come to understand those distant stars are no different than us.

Like you, I’ve had my fair share of close encounters. Like the time I rode the train seated across from Pearl Bailey. (Don’t remember her? Read “My Lunch with Pearl Bailey,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, September 13, 1990, to find out more about the incident and the subject.) I always tried my best to be polite and respect the person as a person. (Except in the case of John Dean, who, while having dinner with him, I bluntly said, “You Continue Reading “George and Me”

Thanksgiving Leftovers

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If your family is like our family, you’ve no doubt dined on Thanksgiving dinner for, oh, about five days. Nothing says “Thanksgiving” more than “leftovers.” It is in that spirit that I offer these remnants that somehow never were able to make a complete plate:

Why is it we always end up with more turkey than we started with (as in, a 21-pound turkey yields 25 pounds of leftovers)?

Will the Redskins ever beat Dallas on Thanksgiving?

*                    *                    *

Bohemian Rhapsody (the story of the rock band Queen) was much more enjoyable than Continue Reading “Thanksgiving Leftovers”

Cuomo Courts Amazon with Our Money

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Let’s get this disclosure out of the way first. We use Amazon. We’re Amazon Prime members. Our parent company, Pandamensional Solutions, Inc., uses Amazon print and distribution services for the books it publishes. In all, we spend a lot of money at Amazon and Amazon generates revenue for us. We have certainly benefited from Amazon.

That being said, we don’t think New York State taxpayers will benefit from Andrew Cuomo’s terrible deal to bring Amazon to his state. Enough was revealed when Amazon announced its decision to “split the baby in half” and create two “second headquarters” instead of one. The “lucky” winners were Long Island City in New York and Arlington in Virginia. Amazon promises to hire 25,000 employees at each location. In addition, the on-line retail behemoth also declared it would open a smaller regional hub in Nashville, Tennessee (where they will hire 5,000).

As we said last year (“This is How the Greater Western New York Region Should Respond If Amazon Picks Another Option,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, October 26, 2017), bowing to Amazon’s extortion-like tactics was absolutely a terrible idea. We stand by our Continue Reading “Cuomo Courts Amazon with Our Money”

The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

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Panem et Circenses. It’s a philosophy that goes back to ancient Rome. Literally translates from the original Latin as “Breads and Circuses,” it defines a strategy to mollify a potentially unruly populace by distracting them with basic needs and entertainment. It’s what you do if you’re not sure the sudden surge in pitchfork sales are destined for farms across your nation or a dense mob about to knock on your front door.

Such was the condition of France throughout the period of the French Revolution. The new government, recognizing its tenuous position, organized a series of festivities beginning with the Festival of the Federation held on July 14, 1790, a year to the day about that aforementioned mob stormed the Bastille. During the final stages of Révolution française, well after the Reign of Terror, the Directory ruled France. In 1798, a little more than a year before the coup d’état that ushered in a new triumvirate that included Napoleon Bonaparte, the Directory decided Continue Reading “The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair”

First Man – A Titanic Odyssey of The Right Stuff

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What could be more fitting that, on the heels of the month where we celebrate the incredible voyage of Christopher Columbus, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the movie First Man. The film depicts the life of Neil Armstrong and culminates in his historic voyage to the moon, a feat of exploration that, at the time and even today, has been compared with Columbus for its historical significance.

Imagine combining 2001: A Space Odyssey with The Right Stuff, then throwing in a pinch of Titanic at the end. That describes First Man.

First things first. Speaking of 2001, there’s a joke going around that Stanley Kubrik allowed Continue Reading “First Man – A Titanic Odyssey of The Right Stuff”

What’s More (Italian) American Than Baseball?

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It’s that time of year. “One, two, three strikes your out at the old ball game.” As we wallow in the World Series, who can help but remember the greatest of the greats. The line is long, but for some reason a lot of uniforms in that line sport pinstripes. Sandwiched in between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on one side and Micky Mantle on the other side is the Yankee Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio.

Joltin’ Joe was long retired and within a few months of renewing his relationship with Marilyn Monroe by the time I was born. Still, for some reason I always felt an affinity to him. In sixth grade the teacher gave us the assignment to write the biography of our hero. I chose Joe DiMaggio. What could I say. He’s Sicilian.

Continue Reading “What’s More (Italian) American Than Baseball?”