Monday, January 31, 2011

New Series

Since the title of the blog is Parts of Speaking, and since I originally started it with the mission of discussing communication topics, I am going to post through the next month on the subject of public speaking, using my curriculum in the class I teach.  Each day will be a short observation.

Today, the starting place: Communication always involves a content and relationship dimension.  This is a highly important concept and one that budding public speakers often forget.  The process of communication (and it is a process, not an event) involves content (ideas, information, facts), but that is not all.  Public speakers often think that’s all that is going on, but that’s only a part.  There is also always a relationship dimension; in other words, there are statements or implications being made about power, liking, connection, trust, and status.  In rhetorical studies, we call that angle “ethos” or “credibility,” which we will talk about more later.   
 Content is primarily shared through verbal (language) means.  Relationship is shared by both verbal and nonverbal means.  You have probably heard the old chestnut “93% of communication is nonverbal.”  That is often quoted, but somewhat out of context.  Alfred Mehrabian was the scholar of nonverbal communication who came up with that number, but it is best to relate that number (which is probably extreme) to the relationship dimension of communication.  In other words, while some of the relationship dimension (how much we trust or like others) is conveyed through verbal means (words), most of it is conveyed through nonverbal means (voice, eye contact, facial expression, posture, gestures, clothing, time, touch, space).

Interestingly, people tend to focus on the “reportorial” side of public speaking (just the facts, ma’am) and not the relational side.  Aristotle called this relational, trust-based side “ethos” which we today tend to call “credibility.”  Credibility comes from many factors, as we will see in the class, but some of them are psychological more than logical, relational more than informational.  Why do we trust people?  Not just because they are competent and intelligent.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Academy Awards?

The Academy Awards don't usually interest me, for a number of reasons.  If a movie is good, it's good.  I don't need someone else's validation.  But this year I am in the unique position of having seen six of the ten nominees for best picture.  Today I saw The Social Network at what we affectionately call the $2.00 movie (it's three now).  I guess it's the second run-almost to DVD theater, where there are often lines across the screen.  That's where I usually go because I'm cheap and don't want to pay $10.00. 

The Social Network was much better than I expected, and should probably get best screenplay because of the superb way the script is put together and the fantastic dialogue (very Sorkinesque).  The first scene is about as spot on as it could be.  But the movie was a downer, if for no other reason (and there were lots of reasons it was a downer) than that the future leaders of our country who go to Harvard are portrayed as a bunch of skanky females and narcissistic, socially immature men.  Also, there is no one in the movie to like, except maybe Eduardo; Larry Summers, president of Harvard, particularly comes off like a buffoon. 

The King's Speech is definitely the best, and it adds to its attraction by being a happy story, even a spiritual one.  I was thankful for the sovereignty of God in history after it.  I figure it will win.

My second pick would be Winter's Bone, which of course won't win because no one has seen it.  But it is remarkable.

Inception was excellent, too, as was True Grit, but they just aren't in the category of The King's SpeechToy Story 3 just didn't do it for me and I think it's just on the list because the list is too long now.  The other four I've missed, but maybe I'll try to see the Black Swan.  Not interested in a fellow who saws his arm off, sperm donation, or boxing this time around.

But as I say, I won't be watching the Awards ceremony or caring very much.  It's often a way for Hollywood to make a political statement--or a politically correct statement.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Was Jesus the Model Teacher, Addendum

Last night I watched the first half of one of the best movies, by many accounts, Being There.  For film students, it's a must-see.  I had watched it before not knowing how great it was supposed to be but concluding that it was at the end.  (I get up very early to go to work and just couldn't stay up for the whole movie last night, sadly).  I see it more a parody of media than anything else, but that's a topic for debate.  Anyway, the most discussed scene is the last one, where the main character walks on water.

The movie is too complex for me to go into an adequate description now.  That would take me more time than I have and more effort than I want to expend.  From what I read, there are a few basic theories about what the last scene means.  One of them, of course, is that the film is a satire about Christ.  The foibles and successes of the main character (whom the film-goer knows the truth about but of course no one--save maybe the Black cook--knows anything about) are to be seen as a parallel to Christ, who said simple things that everyone makes a big deal about.

I find this view amusing, and yet sad.  It's sad because it means so many people miss what Christ was about and because they think they are in a position to compare Him to charlatans and simpletons.  I find it amusing for the same reason, because humans think they are in a position to evaluate Christ at all.   The same would be true of us trying to figure out if He was the model teacher.  Since one third of the world's population claim to follow His teachings and example, any puny blogger's opinions and keytaps are pretty insignificant.

Was Jesus the Model Teacher, Part III

Continuing my discussion of this topic, I am asserting more that Jesus was a model teacher, not the model teacher, since being the model teacher was not the primary goal of His visit to earth.  That doesn't negate that we can learn from His teaching methods.

All his teaching was in a relational context. 

He used both parables and true stories, even the local news.

He used object lessons, often, perhaps overwhelmingly, using money.

He is confrontational.  If someone is wrong, He says so.  This goes against current teaching, where every answer has merit whether it does or not; today, every answer has merit simply because someone said it!

He commands, without apology.  This one is not for us.  We don't get that option.

He takes people's core beliefs and is not afraid to show the shallowness of those beliefs.

However, he also takes people's core beliefs and takes them deeper; he digs to find the why of them.

He uses dialogue but not in a Platonic way, as if to find truth.  He uses dialogue to give the interlocutor a chance to confess sin and profess faith; to show they are wrong (or right); and to validate their value.

He teaches as He lives.

Understanding a little, really understanding, is more important than holding a lot of facts in your head, which is not really learning.

This list and the previous two posts just skim the surface.  It comes down to this for me:  I want to teach like Jesus to the extent that I mirror His interior example and character, not some external, possibly culturally-bound, technique.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Was Jesus the Model Teacher, Part II

The following are some more musings about the teaching style of Jesus as recorded in the canon.

1.  He used a mixture of teaching methods, not all the same and not all the same contexts.  In the class I am taking the instructor, who is the Christian Education Director on the pastoral staff, talks about formal and informal teaching.  I like that.  Definitely what Jesus did, and we are doing it, too, even if we don't notice that.  Realizing you are teaching informally is not an excuse to be full of yourself about it, but to be humbled.

2.  Jesus accepts the people who wanted to be accepted, and He didn't so much reject the others as  let them make the decision.  No force.  But still, Jesus loved them and had compassion on them even when they rejected Him.  The rich young ruler is an example.   I can learn so much from this.  The people who "self-reject" may do so because of their own sin and bad attitude, but I can still love them and care about them.  Another professor told me this morning that two students were trying to get out of my class and into his.  We laughed about this because (a) it's far too late for drop/add and (b) he's harder as a teacher than I am.  But I am not offended.  If those students don't prefer me, I cannot change their minds.  But at the same time I don't have to be mean about it. 

3.  Jesus, despite being the second person of the trinity, never held himself about the people.  That is the whole point, that he came in such poverty.  He allowed Himself to be worshiped but He also identified.  This is not something we can model very much, not being deity, but we can eschew unhelpful class and role hierarchies and distinctions.  Yesterday I engaged in a little more disclosure about myself in class than I usually do.  I admitted, in the context of discussing speech anxiety, that I have panic attacks, and that I didn't start til I was older.  I was trying to make them understand it's more common than they thought and that they can start at any time.  I think they really appreciated it, although the females were more vocal about it.  (My attacks have to do with driving and some crowds, not public speaking or meeting new people.  I like those). 

More to come.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Was Jesus the "Model Teacher?"

This question came up to me at a teacher training session at the church I attend.  (Note:  our church staff provides a "school of discipleship" for those who want to go deeper in a more academic way.  I really appreciate it and have taken four classes so far.  Good model.)
 I got to thinking about this, and here are some musings:

Jesus was perfect and He was a teacher.  However, that doesn't mean He sets Himself up as the Perfect Teacher.  Am I being irreverent?  Jesus was here to accomplish several tasks, but being a model as a teacher (in every way) may not have been one of them.  I think the question may be raised by people who want to think of Jesus as a great teacher rather than as second person of trinity and savior; that is not an option we have, as CS Lewis has so bluntly proclaimed.

Was Jesus even an effective teacher?  And if He was, was it in the way He taught (His methodologies) or for some other reason? 

Does Scripture ever tell us to follow His model as a teacher and does He ever promise we will be effective if we did follow His model?

How would Jesus even judge effectiveness in the first place?  He would be more concerned about the content of the message and the character of the messenger more than the specific processes and methodologies of the teaching. 

It is possible to have unacceptable methodology if the methodology is based on faulty philosophy or theology.  For example, Jesus was no Platonic or Socratic.  He didn't believe or proclaim that the spiritual knowledge is inherent within us and we just have to find the right way to uncover it.  (Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Peter ..... Matthew 16). Another example:  views that people are not sinners and are therefore capable of spiritual self-development.  Or the view that truth is flexible and personally-based.  

Beyond that, the methods Jesus used are not sacrosanct.  He probably used methods similar to those of other peripatetic teachers (that's a good word to look up).  At the same time, His methods are worth studying mainly because they teach us more about Him and because the medium is the message, and His methods of teaching help us know the presuppositions we should have as we teach (see previous paragraph.  Our methodology is usually based in beliefs about human nature and the nature of knowledge and knowledge acquisition).  More on this tomorrow.

I say this because in higher ed we are supposed to have a constructivist view of knowledge and I have a hard time getting my "head around that" in terms of all disciplines.  My understanding (or practice) of constructivism is that students should be encouraged to do their own research along the lines of the specific discipline to learn more about the discipline, but the whole point is that they have to learn the methods of the discipline; they can't just come up with knowledge out of nowhere, or from just talking about it.  As I said in a workshop once, there seems to be Knowledge and knowledge, just like there is Truth and truth. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Boxing Movies

Let me start by saying I live with a paradox.  I hate boxing.  It is an awful, brutal sport.  Everything about it is depressing and demeaning, and I think crooked and corrupt. 

The other side of the paradox is that boxing movies fascinate me.  Are there any bad ones?  I recently watched two, Requiem for a Heavyweight and The Setup.  I have not ever seen the one considered the best, Raging Bull (I tried, but the domestic violence in it was upsetting, and I will be the first to admit that there are some movies I just can’t watch because of violence, extreme sexuality, and blasphemy), and there are a few others I have missed.  But the two recently watched ones, along with Cinderella Man, and Rocky (the fighting in that one is a bit cartoonish), and Million-Dollar Baby are great drama.

Why does boxing draw filmmakers to make such good movies?  I think it has to do with the sport’s logistics.  It’s one man against another, wearing nothing but a pair of trunks, shoes, and padded gloves.  Being a boxer is physically and emotionally grueling, but it doesn’t attract the elites of society.  It’s a common man, Everyman sport.  The fighters do their deeds in a tiny “ring” (square?), perfect for closeups.  It’s not a particularly noble sport—I mean, you are trying your best to knock the other person unconscious, so what kind of person psychologically is drawn to that? 

The boxers are surrounded by a crowd trying to encourage one man to hurt the other—how emblematic of society is that, especially American society, built on competition? The crowd seems hardened to what they are watching, the pain the fighters are going through—they just want a show. On top of that, the people behind the scenes—the managers, the sponsors, the gamblers—make for tension.  Anyone who loves the fighter—usually the faithful wife, sometimes the weathered manager or trainer—has to stand by and watch the suffering. 

And of course there is the long-term damage to the boxer.  That is the theme of Requiem for a Heavyweight.   Like Death of a Salesman, boxing movies are often about the remains of a life spent in something the person loved, or at least tried to love in order to make a living or because he/she thought it was all he/she could do.  That is a theme in Million Dollar Baby, where the young woman believes that is all she is good at and doesn’t even get that approbation from her redneck family.  What does a boxer do when he/she can no longer fight?  What does anyone do when he/she can no longer do what defines one’s life?  An ultimate question. 

A friend of mine lost her voice due to the early stages of a terminal illness, although she didn’t die for two years.  She was a teacher, as I am—not having a voice is unimaginable.  I could still write, and would, but perhaps would become quite depressed if I couldn’t be in the classroom.  In many boxing movies, there are usually no other options for the washed-up boxer—taking them to the level of Greek tragedy, in some ways.  In Requiem, the boxer becomes, despite all his moral objections, a “professional wrestler” where he has to pretend to lose—“I never took a dive!” he says.  But circumstances (his manager’s gambling) push him to it due to the boxer’s flaw, his loyalty to the manager.  In Million Dollar Baby, she wants to commit suicide but can’t, so her manager does it for her.  Many Christians protested that movie’s end, but I thought it made sense and was not done maliciously or flippantly done. 

Yes, a good boxing movie is a Greek tragedy.  Maybe one day I’ll be able to sit through Raging Bull.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Must-Read for Spiritual Nourishment and Challenge

I had heard of Henri Nouwen several years ago, actually read about him in Christianity Today.  A friend encouraged me to read his work, and I recently picked up The Road to Daybreak at McKay’s Book in Chattanooga (a great place for booklovers to visit). 

Nouwen is shaking my world.  The short version:  Nouwen, a Catholic, was a scholar and academic.  In the mid-‘80s he chose to leave that world and enter service for the disabled at a L’Arche community in France.  Now that is what he does—takes care of a severely disabled man, believing that is his true call for following Jesus; this after a life of fame at Harvard and Yale. 

So I ask myself—could I walk away from anything that makes me seem important in my eyes and others and go into an obscurity of service for the sake of the Jesus and the gospel?  That has to be the ultimate question.  Many have done it; some we know about, mostly because of the level of fame they have attained before the radical obedience.   

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Must-See

As I have said before, I don’t like to recommend movie because they are so much a matter of taste and so expensive, but it would be worth the money and time to see The King’s Speech.  You will learn, you will be inspired, you will be very moved.  It is about overcoming  the constraints of one’s situation, one’s fears, and one’s disabilities; it is about duty over self; it is about the power of friendship over class distinctions and everything else. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Time for Some Randomness

When is someone going to take an AK-47 to Mayhem?  Would that take care of him?

I like the girl on the Progressive Insurance commercials.  I don’t like Progressive insurance.

Why are Southerners such wimps about snow? We have people in our neighborhood who didn't shovel their sidewalks or driveways after six days.

Line from Meet me in St. Louis, by Marjorie Main (I love her):  “She’s having trouble with her husband, him being a man and all.”

People went to movies in the '20-50s to see beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes in beautiful settings doing not always so beautiful things. 

Hulu has some great stuff to watch.   I watched The Razor’s Edge last night.

Anybody who says gender behavior is not biological is crazy.  No one has to tell a little boy to act like a little boy.  My sweet compliant son still loved guns and to stand in front of Star Wars movies with his fake light saber; he even told me half-eaten sandwich was a gun once. 

I am tired of Facebook telling me to be “friends” with someone I really don’t like!!!

If the buck is going to be passed, it might as well be passed to someone who has plenty of them. (from The Whales of August).

And this line of dialogue from Hot in Cleveland says it all.
Valerie Bertinelli:  "I am still mad at my boyfriend, so I'm punishing him.  I'm not talking to him."
Betty White:  "If you want to punish a man, you talk more."

Public Speaking Online, Part IV

During the Web Speech             One of the helpful suggestions from the business writers used for this appendix ...