Rhetoric is traditionally defined in literature as the “verbal art” of speaking and writing effectively. In our daily life people perceive a rhetorician as a skilled person who can convince an audience with their ability to talk eloquently, for example political or religious leaders. The rhetorical strengths of such people can achieve a dramatic effect on the audience. Consider Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech to the march on Washington; it was a success in its resolution as well as in the fact that it had an audience of a quarter of a million people. His speech triggered a chain of events that resulted in dramatic social change. In other words, King’s rhetorical stance stimulated and articulated “change.” One can thus ask the question whether rhetoric can only be defined as an art of speaking, or is there more to it? Is rhetoric only peculiar to literacy, or is it an art that can be applied to other areas? Keeping these questions in mind, I will examine rhetoric from a different perspective and articulate my argument with two examples.
Being one of the liberal arts, rhetoric can be defined in such a way that is freed from its usual literary references. Thus, rhetoric is an inquiry into the core of the problem, resulting in a “change” in the state of the subject matter from its current state to a preferred one.
Change in a rhetorical inquiry happens by discovery and invention. Discovery is about becoming aware of existence, whereas invention is about finding new connections within existence. Rhetoric is discovery and invention in a sequence of events. A rhetorician first finds a topic with a particular problem; the definition of the topic is the discovery. The rhetorician then searches for possibilities, uses his judgment about facts, questions the problem, and reaches new issues that will become subheadings of topics. Issues are at the heart of an argument. The rhetorician finds solutions to the problem by merging two contrasting issues and allowing them to work together, which results in invention. Having reached the invention, the rhetorician then uses arrangement, expression, memory, and delivery to resolve the rhetorical inquiry. So, the meaning most frequently associated with rhetoric is actually this last step that comes after discovery and invention.
To make my argument clear, I would like to give the example of Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006 “for his efforts to create economic and social development from below” (Nobel Prize Statement). From the perspective of rhetoric, Muhammad Yunus is a perfect example of rhetorical inquiry. He first identifies the problem of poverty in Bangladesh and then defines his topic as economic development. In searching for possibilities, he comes up with the issues of “financial loans” and “poverty.” Normally, financial loans are thought to be designed for people who have financial credibility, while poverty, in general is seen as being removed from economic development.
Muhammad Yunus did not think so. He took these two contrasting issues and merged them, arriving at the micro-credit idea; i.e., that if an institution gives small loans to poor people, this will result in a massive change and economic development, which can help the poor to stand on their feet, helping them to survive and recover from poverty. His idea was realized with the institution of the Grameen Bank, which has provided more than $5.1 billion US dollars to 5.3 million people. To guarantee payment, the bank developed a system called “solidarity groups,” which are small-scale unofficial groups that apply together for loans. The group members act as co-guarantors of repayment, supporting one another’s efforts in economic self-advancement.
To restate, Muhammad Yunus took a rhetorical stance and used it as a way to solve the problem of poverty in his country. His argument was based on two issues, one being poverty, the other financial loans. He merged the two issues and invented the micro-credit concept. The implementation of the idea was dependent on the facts of the situation, whereas judgments of the facts relied on objectivity. The realization of the idea of “loans for the poor” was so successful that it resulted in other activities, such as loans for housing, fisheries, etc.
Another example of a rhetorical invention is that of the Turkish scholar Fethullah Gulen who took the education of individuals as his topic, and inspired people to initiate intercultural dialogue and education institutions in order to eradicate cross-cultural ignorance and misunderstandings in society. The general concept of positivist thinking which drives education is that science and moral values are two separate things that should not be considered together. And when it comes to understanding the other, it is stereotypes that control people’s opinions.
But Fethullah Gulen did not think so. He merged science and moral values, which resulted in educational institutions that teach both of these subjects to the students, while merging different cultures by emphasizing the common moral values in intercultural and interfaith dialogue activities. These educational institutions have been breaking the so-called norms and reaching people from all over the world by providing a highstandard education equal for all. Simultaneously, NGOs that focus on dialogue activities have reached people of different faiths, from Jewish rabbis to Buddhist priests, in order to spread the idea of understanding others.
To restate this example, Fethullah Gulen presents a strong rhetorical stance about the problem of ignorance. He suggests education as the topic, and comes up with sciences, culture, and common values as the issues. To reach possible solutions, he blends these issues, and his teachings provided inspiration for the establishment of the institutions that focus on education and in the NGO’s that focus on dialogue activities. The strength of the educational institutions is their emphasis on equity and brotherhood while keeping a high-level academic approach. An effort that spans the entire world, these schools not only provide modern education to poor and developing countries, but also support the solution to the problem of crosscultural ignorance in the world.
In conclusion, both Muhammed Yunus and Fethullah Gulen have triggered “change” in the world under very different circumstances, one in economics, the other in education, but by using a common tool. This common tool is rhetorical thinking, which is rooted in people’s capability to develop arguments. If we return to the question posed at the beginning it would be easier now to define rhetoric. Rhetoric is an art of invention that has its own methodology and which helps to solve the serious problems of the world over a wide spectrum.