The speechwriter’s rational anthem

One of the communication leaders who attended Leadership Communication Days last week was Boe Workman, who writes for the chief of AARP.

Over cocktails, he told me he’d recently completed an “ethical will,” an essay that would tell his friends and his family someday, “what my life was all about.”

I begged him to share it with me—and then when I read it, I begged him to let me share this part, with you.

I am a firm believer in and practitioner of rhetorical perspective, having made its study and practice my chosen profession. As a writer, and especially as a speechwriter, I believe in the power of rhetoric to initiate and energize ideas, and in the principle of public discourse to illuminate, refine and resolve public issues.

As Isocrates wrote in The Antidosis, “There is no institution devised by man which the power of speech has not helped us to establish. For this it is which has laid down laws concerning things just and unjust, and things honorable and base; and if it were not for these ordinances we should not be able to live with one another. It is by this also that we confute the bad and extol the good. Through this we educate the ignorant and appraise the wise; for the power to speak well is taken as the surest index of a sound understanding, and discourse which is true and lawful and just is the outward image of a good and faithful soul … We shall find that none of the things that are done with intelligence take place without the help of speech, but that in all our actions as well as in all our thoughts speech is our guide, and it is most employed by those who have the most wisdom.”

My Aristotelian belief is that “what makes a man a sophist is not his skill, but his moral purpose,” and that in the long run (sometimes a very long run) the worse cannot be made to appear the better reason.

Is that, or is it not, a proper personal anthem for every speechwriter—indeed, every professional communicator? —DM

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