Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion is probably one of the oddest book titles I’ve seen in a while. However, Jay Heinrichs’ book provides a concise course on the art of rhetoric. Heinrich teaches valuable lessons by providing uses of rhetoric as well as tips on how to incorporate its various forms in the modern age.
In the preface, Heinrichs states, “Rhetoric means more than grand oratory, more than ‘using words… to influence or persuade,’ as Webster’s defines it. It teaches us to argue without anger.” In fact, throughout the book, Heinrichs teaches the reader to craft effective persuasive arguments and to defend them. Useful techniques do not necessarily involve leaving emotion out of arguments, but learning how to use valuable techniques to diffuse anger and how to identify fallacies to reduce the validity of an opponent’s arguments.
This book divides rhetoric into three groups (forensic, demonstrative, and deliberative) and it explains the appropriate verb tenses that should accompany each group. According to Heinrichs, forensic rhetoric should undoubtedly use the past tense since its purpose “is to determine guilt and mete out punishment.” However, he warns that spouses and couples should refrain from using this tense because it can ruin relationships. Heinrichs also states that demonstrative rhetoric should use the present tense because it deals with values. In fact, our nation’s political parties often use the present tense in an attempt to create bonds or define separations. Finally, deliberative rhetoric should use the future tense because “it argues about choices and helps us decide how to meet our mutual goals.” The author, once again, gives practical advice by saying this is a healthier form of rhetoric for couples as well as a successful tool to use when competing against superior candidates during promotion-related interviews.
Another strength of Thank You for Arguing involves the author’s focus on leaving anger out of arguments. This is certainly an area that I need to work on. In fact, Heinrichs explains that arguments and fights are not the same by saying, “You succeed in an argument when you persuade your audience. You win a fight when you dominate the enemy.” He goes on to explain that fights involve anger and aggression whereas arguments try to “change your mood, your mind, or your willingness to do something.” In demonstrating how to diffuse anger, Heinrichs provides an example of a driver being pulled over for speeding. In a typical manner, the angry officer asks the driver if he knows why he is being pulled over. According to Heinrichs, the driver should avoid sarcasm or anger. Instead, he should respond by admitting to speeding and by asking the officer for advise on how to balance out paying attention to the speedometer while simultaneously paying attention to the road. By appealing to the officer’s expertise, the driver diffuses the officer’s anger.
Honestly, I couldn’t decide whether to post about this book or not. Perhaps if you’re the non-confrontational type, this book can help you shy away from arguments because you don’t want to offend someone. If you’re often called aggressive, this book can help you develop more logical arguments. And it can definitely make all of us more effective listeners.
Total number of pages: 283, FoA pages: 10,371 (The total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)