How to Win Friends and Influence Students

How to Win Friends and Influence Students


“Unilateralism breeds the arrogance of ignorance… and ignorance breeds bad policy.”



Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. penned that phrase in an article in Foreign Affairs back in the late 1980s and it always struck me as having a universal truth attached to it.  He was speaking about a single country engaging in military adventurism without strong allied support… but it might be equally true when it comes to our own conduct, both personally and professionally.



What we say has consequences… sometimes potentially catastrophic consequences both for ourselves as well as our audience.



A few weeks ago I was speaking at a conference out of state.  I had been brought in to speak about Second Amendment jurisprudence and the underlying philosophical principles of classical liberalism.  (Yeah… light stuff.)



One of the other presenters was a retired law enforcement officer who has a training facility in that state.



He spoke first.



Oratory does not manifest out of whole cloth.  It has a structure.  It also has a balance and a natural progression.  Aristotle defined the three foundational parts as ethos, pathos, and logos.



Ethos is where we usually begin.  We provide the audience with a reason to listen to us.  In a sense, we justify our presence.  This does not mean just a recitation of a resume… though that can certainly be part of it.  It also involves the intangibles of warmth, competency, and charisma.  It is the je ne sais quoi of the speaker that compels us to listen.



The pathos is the listener.  It is the audience as a group, as well as the audience as an individual.  It is the emotive side of the listener we seek to connect with as speakers, but it is also, at a fundamental level, the speaker’s ability to be empathetic and the listener’s ability to recognize that empathy.



Logos is the final connective tissue, the logic that weaves throughout the speaker’s message that leads to the inexorable conclusion that the speaker yearns the listener to reach.  It is pure (or at least should be pure), empirical, analytical, and irrefutable.  (It is also the part that suffers the most when speakers choose to make their ethos the central part of the argument… “Listen to me; I’m special, there is no need to bore you with the logic of my argument.”)



So back to this other trainer.



He began telling his audience (and me), that he knew more about the law than they did.  After all, he had been a cop for over 30 years.  He was / is as qualified to opine on the law as any attorney.



(This, by the way, is not an entirely unreasonable statement.  If you were to ask me a question about tax law, I would stare at you blankly.  I have no clue on tax law… but I would be more than willing to listen and learn from an accountant, who has never gone to law school, but studies the tax code.)



He said he could teach them to defend themselves and stay out of jail.  He then began a fairly expansive discussion on the use of OC spray as the ultimate kryptonite to criminals.



(He did conveniently leave out that in close quarters the user of the OC spray stands as much chance of being affected by the aerosol as the criminal, or the criminal’s continued ability to engage in confrontational behavior.)



One elderly woman asked if she could instead use her fire extinguisher she keeps near her bed against a criminal intruder.



“You do that, you are going to jail!  Use of a fire extinguisher for anything other than putting out a fire is a federal crime!”






Ummm… no… that is absolutely, 100% wrong and shows an utter lack of understanding of both the common law doctrine of necessity, or the several affirmative defenses the woman could assert if she were actually charged with criminal conduct (which it is highly doubtful she would be).



What he did do, though, was create doubt.  He created a pause.  When (if) she is ever, God forbid, put into that encounter, she may very well hesitate, remembering his admonition… and end up perishing as a result.



Professionalism-at-arms is not just something we preach to our students to set up as a mindset for continued training.  It is just as applicable to us as trainers and educators.  We need to understand that our words cannot be cavalier, dismissive, and devoid of logos as we seek to inflate the ethos.



Sandy has always said to me that she prefers actions to words.  (In a sense, it is ironic she married a wordsmith).



I get what she is saying… but actions generally have a limited scope of effect.



Words can start revolutions, religions, and mass movements.  Words continue on long after the speaker has departed.  They can also be the contributing cause of our listener’s death or incarceration.



We must all choose our words with the most deliberate of care.



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Comments (7)

  • Jason Reply

    This transcends many other walks of life, as I’m sure you know. I’m a 20-year umpire for both Little League and Girls Softball, and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard “I know the rules, I’ve played baseball for 30 years!” while arguing with me that “tie goes to the runner” (no such rule exists or has ever existed in any baseball or softball rule book, it’s a sandlot rule created by kids when there’s no umpire around so you can adjudicate bang-bang plays). I hear it on TV as well when watching an MLB play when a commentator who was a long-time pro player claims to understand the rule, but then gets it completely wrong.

    Experience and application can definitely outweigh study and knowledge, but it doesn’t replace it.

    Thanks for this, Steve.

    05/01/2024 at 08:48
  • Robert Hagler Reply

    Thanks for sharing Steven. There are valuable lessons here, which is one of the reasons I enjoy your blogs!

    05/01/2024 at 09:46
  • Christopher S. Martin Reply

    I found this blog to be right on point. I am a retired law enforcement officer with over 26 years of experience and I knew and still know other law enforcement officers, both active and retired, with a great deal of experience as well. I have taught many classes and have given many speeches. I am often caught off guard, though, by seeing how enamored LEO types are with their own knowledge. I worked our pistol range and I know a little bit about guns, training, and permits to carry via the HR-218 permit for retirees. I can also tell you that I don’t know everything and I am always in search of more knowledge and understanding. So, when I speak about something I try to make sure I choose my words carefully. I need to heed the famous words of “Dirty Harry” Callahan, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

    05/01/2024 at 11:14
  • John Denney Reply

    I’ve often thought I’d like to have a coin stamped with, “Actions speak louder than words” on one side, and, “The pen is mightier than the sword” on the other.

    Being a technogeek, I focus on logos; ethos & pathos follow from that.

    05/01/2024 at 11:52
    • John Denney Reply

      After a bit more thought, I realized I do it backwards.

      I speak the logos; receptive listeners do the pathos; then we connect with the ethos.

      Jesus did it that way; He’d speak, receptive people would marvel & ask, “Who is this man?”, & then He’d reveal more of Himself to those people.

      The logos should stand on its own, apart from the speaker, otherwise, in the extreme, one falls into “Appeal to Authority” logical fallacies.

      05/02/2024 at 10:25
  • Alyson Rutledge Reply

    Love these blogs!

    05/03/2024 at 15:38
  • Norm Ellis Reply

    Very true and I applaud you. You are very good teacher. I once watch an interview with Thomas Friedman. He made very profound statement that I have taken to heart. A degree only gives you the knowledge to learn. Nobody knows it all.

    05/04/2024 at 16:28

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