Is Pathos Always Positive?

Aj Williams

Keywords: Social Media, Leadership, Believe, Trust, Courage

When it comes to making a tough decision, does what people say affect your decision more than their actions? Take voting for instance, you listen to the candidates try and persuade you to vote for them and not others. Their message affects the outcome of the election. Pathos, defined as appeals to emotions, is a very effective and important way of delivering messages. Emotions determine so much that we do not even realize it over time. The message provided either gains your attention or cause you to listen to the other candidates even more. Demeanor, facial expression, and tone of voice all come in to play. Politics is not the only place where pathos matters. Coaches give their players a pregame speech to motivate them to go out and play their best, letting them know how proud they are, how good the players are, and how they should go out and play hard. My head coach Dave Clawson has done a great job with motivating us before we run out onto the field. His voice and eye contact let you know he means everything he says. It makes you believe in yourself ten times harder and so you play your best for the guys next to you. I can relate his pregame speech to the opening speech from the film Patton. The general lets his soldiers know that they will face adversity at some point, but it does not matter. It matters how they get up and respond. Those messages can mean so much to anyone when they are delivered the right way. Regardless of being short or long, messages still affect people. We always say to each other on the team a quick message, “play good defense.” When everything goes bad just play good defense. It does not have to be any complex words and it is only three of them, but having that small message come from your brothers goes a long way. It lets you know they are going to stick with you no matter the outcome.


This is why vocal messages are powerful. They affect decision making and the way people live their lives. A few messages can have an effect on the future, in sports, politics, or other contexts. How do they motivate you and your teammates before they were considered for captain? What is their body language and attitude when you have practice or things go wrong? Yes, those things are actions, but actions speak louder than words and they still are a message. The person you pick to lead your group, country, city, or business is the person who makes those decisions down the line. The decisions that affect the whole team, city, or group.


Emotional messages are the most effective messages. Hearing the pain or anger in someone voice with every word they say is what gives us sympathy and empathy, connecting with the person. In Severn Suzuki’s speech, the twelve-year-old girl stood before a group of adults and told them how she wanted people to start taking care of the world. Her voice did not crack one time. She was not slouched over or mumbling, she was standing tall with her head high and speaking firm. The way she delivered her message had a factor on how the adults responded to her message. Delivering a message well allows you to have a greater chance in being successful in your persuasive attempt to get others on your side, or to listen to you. Being able to grab the audience’s attention from the moment you speak your first few words. Coach Clawson grabbed my attention when I first came here. He would address the whole team as men. Clawson would say things like, “alright men let’s go to work.”


Small actions and emotional messages are what people notice. In elections, pathos reveals the risks of making the other candidate look bad. In “Gender and Race in American Elections: From Pathos Prediction to the Power of Possibility,” Matthew Hughey describes how Donald Trump said terrible things about Hillary Clinton. Trump said how she did worst among millennials and tweeted that she was a “nasty woman.” Those messages made some people realize they did not like Hillary Clinton and others realized how much they hated Donald Trump. The negative emotions were so effective that they caused thousands of people to change over and vote for Trump. He delivered his message on social media where he knew he could target the young adults. This goes to show that it isn’t only about what you say but how you say or get you message to people matter.


In the article “Pathos, Poverty, and Politics: Booker T. Washington’s Radically Reimagined American Civilization,” Michael Richards talks about how people who want to end poverty sometimes address it the wrong way. The terms, actions, or messages heard over press conferences make it challenging to do so. For example, President Ronald Reagan going to war with poverty: War is such a harsh word or term. I hear the word war and think violence. The people living in poverty misinterpreted what was said. I feel they got the idea that the president was going to war or targeting them personally. Richards mentions the idea that people tend to act out of character when they feel threaten or attacked. That is clearly what happened when the country decided to go to war with poverty. People of the community started to commit crimes or handle situations the worst way possible.


Verbal messages to people are very important. They help make decisions for now and later. These messages are effective and are the reasons the world is run the way it is. Being able to provide an audience with a clear and well-presented message is what may get people on your side. Whether it is a politician, coach, mentor, leader, regardless of who it is, the only way people listen to you is from the message you provide. When it was time for me to make my college decision, there were teachers talking to me about Wake Forest. They were basically trying to persuade me into choosing Wake. They said things like, “Wake is a great school academically,” “A degree from Wake would be so good on a job application.” A few teachers would mention how Wake was an ACC team and they played big teams, which was great exposure for me. All of them got me thinking and interested into this school because I did not know anything about them. They influenced my decision a lot. That message came from someone who genuinely cared about me, and they only knew me for a few years. Those messages changed my life forever.



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Feeling Rhetoric Copyright © 2022 by Aj Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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