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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Is Incivility a Good Thing?

We know that the ideal civility is (among other things) a tool of power. If an institution can enforce civility, then it is restricting speech by confusing the substance of the speech with the manner in which it expressed. It is "tone policing." It is also selective, in that some forms of "incivility" will be disapproved of, and others not.

Incivility is bad, we also know, when used by the more powerful against the less; when designed to intimidate, threaten, or harass. We also recognize that civility should be "normal," in the sense that it is the most frequently encountered attitude to take in one's everyday dealings with anyone in the university community.

We know incivility can be rhetorically effective or rhetorically ineffective. It depends. The same with civility itself. A rude come-back to an insult can be a zinger. An angry response can make you look foolish or merely angry. A very strong statement made in calm, polite way can be very effective. Humor can be effective too. I often get a laugh in a meeting even when I'm not trying to tell a joke.


Hyperbole and litotes can both be effective, rhetorically. Knowing when to use which is key. If you are known to use hyperbole than your words will be discounted by just that much. I will get the emotional truth of how you feel, but I won't take you literally.

1 comment:

Leslie said...

I wish I could remember the reason now on that long ago afternoon in a meeting where this normally very polite professor said to a dean, and I quote: "I could kick your ass all day and not get tired."