Invitational Versus Traditional Rhetoric
I love a good discussion. There are very few things better than a heated but respectful dialogue of opposing viewpoints. The rush of adrenaline, the singularity of focus, the challenge of consensus, and the freedom from American normative standards of polite but uncommunicative discourse are all reasons why this is one of my favorite activities. When I went to BYU for my undergraduate degree I found a couple of like-minded roommates and once a week we hosted a “Discussion Night” in our tiny blue and white south Provo house. The topics ranged from belief, power, and gender, to politics, environment, and business. Sometimes they would last an hour sometimes they would last all night. It was invigorating. Maybe that is why I chose to become a professor. My favorite classes are when I can create a debate and then sit back and watch my students come alive with a fire and a passion that normally lies dormant (probably because they are checking their facebook statuses during the lecture. I’m just sayin’).
Unfortunately, as I age I have noticed that these elucidating conversations have become less and less frequent in my life. Especially in regard to church topics. They are replaced with hostile, rigid, defensive, and attacking discourse on both sides. Admittedly, I am part of the problem. I get frustrated feeling like my intellect, faith, and personal choices are questioned when people disagree with me, only to find out that those I am conversing with feel the exact same way. I know that this is not the right solution, but I am nearing the point where it just seems easier to avoid people with different viewpoints than mine.
This is one of the reasons I joined The Round Table at Patheos. It was created to bring women throughout the bloggernaccle with contrasting perspectives together and have them dialogue with one another rather than against each other. We presented our panel at the Sunstone Symposium this year and one of the panelist, Kathryn Soper, provided an incredible resource about invitational rhetoric (handout) written by Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin, entitled “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric.” (entire article). I highly recommend linking to the handout for more information, but only after you complete the quiz below to see where you fall along the lines of traditional or invitational rhetoric.
TRADITIONAL VERSUS INVITATIONAL RHETORIC QUIZ
Choose one of the options in each number. Keep track of your choices.
1) A. Humanity’s purpose is to understand others. B. Humanity’s purpose is to change others.
2) A. Audiences are allies to be included. B. Audiences are opponents to be convinced.
3) A. The position of the speaker is superior to those in the audience. B. The positions of the audience are just as legitimate as the speaker.
4) My job as a speaker is to: A. show you my way and see your way. B. help you and show you the way.
5) A. Conversation is a means to an end. B. The means of conversation is the end.
6) In a debate: A. I am determined to persuade. B. I am willing to yield.
7) A. I am more concerned with being right than how others feel. B. I am more concerned with how others feel than that I am right.
8 ) My aim in a discussion is to: A. feel challenged. B. challenge others.
9) Success is determined when: A. others convert to my perspective. b) new ideas and options are generated that neither party had acknowledged previously.
10) My intention is to: A. transform current system. B. reinforce current system.
Answer Key: 1) AI, BT. 2) AI, BT. 3) AT, BI. 4) AI, BT. 5) AT, BI. 6) AT, BI. 7) AT, BI. 8 ) AI, BT. 9) AT, BI. 10) AI, BT. T= Traditional Rhetoric, and I=Invitational Rhetoric. Count up all your T’s and I’s and see where you fall along the line of traditional vs. invitational rhetoric. Were you surprised at your answers?
Ultimately, traditional rhetoric is rooted in a black and white worldview and rigid thinking, where the goal of conversation is to convert others to your thinking. Whereas invitational rhetoric is rooted in valuing the individual experiences of everyone and critically thinking about why there is variation in those viewpoints, where the goal of conversation is to be edified by each other. In parsing out these different perspectives it was surprising to me that so much of what Christ teaches falls along the lines of invitational rhetoric, however, the manner in which the current church functions and teaching often fits into the traditional rhetoric column. The opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty, and yet so much of church rhetoric is rooted in certainty, knowledge, and conversion. Why is that? Do you agree?
On another note, this article really challenged me to do a better job when I am in a dialogue with varying viewpoints, to see their perspective, to value their experiences, etc. It also helped validate why I like engaging in discussion in the first place and that discussion really can open up new ways of thinking. At first glance I saw the notion of invitational rhetoric as another take on the theory of relativity (i.e. cultural relativity, historical relativity, and in this case rhetorical relativity) and it was a bit unsettling because if all points are valid, then do I have to accept oppression, hate speech, or human rights abuses? Yet on closer examination Foss and Griffen conclude on exactly that point:
“Finally, invitational rhetoric provides a mode of communication for women and other marginalized groups to use in their efforts to transform systems of domination and oppression. At first glance, invitational rhetoric may seem to be incapable of resisting and transforming oppressive systems such as patriarchy because the most it seems able to do is to create a space in which representatives of an oppressive system understand a different—in this case, a feminist—perspective but do not adopt it. Although invitational rhetoric is not designed to create a specific change, such as the transformation of systems of oppression into ones that value and nurture individuals, it may produce such an outcome. Invitational rhetoric may resist an oppressive system simply because it models an alternative to the system by being ‘itself an Other way of thinking/speaking (Daly, 1978, p. xiii)—it presents an alternative feminist vision rooted in affirmation and respect and thus shows how an alternative looks and works. Invitational rhetoric thus may transform an oppressive system precisely because it does not engage the system on its own terms, using arguments developed from the system’s framework or orientation. Such arguments usually are co-opted by the dominant system (Ferguson 1984) and provide the impetus ‘to strengthen, refine, and embellish the original edifice,’ entrenching the system further (Johnson, 1989, pp. 16-17). Invitational rhetoric, in contrast, enables rhetors to disengage from the dominance and mastery so common to a system of oppression and to create a reality of equality and mutuality in its place, allowing for options and possibilities not available within the familiar, dominant framework” (Foss and Griffen 1995:16-17).
Do you agree with Griffen and Foss’s concluding paragraph? How does this paragraph relate to Exponent’s recent debate about “On the Sexist Nature of Benevolent Patriarchy” by Amelia? How does this comparison between traditional and invitational rhetoric impact your discussion style?