Pathos and Life Lessons

Derek Crum

Have you ever set your mind on something and no matter what others have to say otherwise, you think it is wrong? Pathos, as appeals to emotions, may seem like a strategy for the person giving the speech to get pity out of their audience. Aristotle writes that, “pathos is an elaborate illusion” (Aristotle and Jebb). Emotions stirred in the audience by the speech may move you in a certain way, but that does not have to be sad. In this chapter, I demonstrate that pathos can evoke happy emotions, excitement, or even motivation. Pathos is important in rhetoric because the audience must feel what the person giving the speech wants them to feel, drawing the audience and the speaker closer. Emotions make the audience also understand the speaker’s point of view, so pathos is a powerful rhetorical tool to evoke emotions, except for pity.


Pathos is important because it offers a way for the audience to relate to the person giving the speech and feel their emotions. The example I use is Stuart Scott’s speech at the ESPYs. At the time, Scott what suffering from a rare cancer. Scott says, “I listened to what Jimmy Valvano said 21 years ago. The most poignant seven words ever uttered in any speech anywhere. Don’t give up, don’t ever give up. Those great people didn’t. Coach Valvano didn’t. So, to be honored with this, I now have a responsibility to also not ever give up.” It was important for Scott to share his emotions because he wanted others to feel motivated to keep pushing no matter what they were going through in life at the time. He knew he was going to die soon, and the audience knew that before the speech, but listening to a dying man make those statements about never giving up tells a person that somewhere else in the world, someone has it worse.


Pathos brings people together and can shed light on the world. Scott talks about something that brings sadness, but turns it into something motivational. He states, “I’m not losing. I’m still here, I’m fighting. I’m not losing. But I’ve gotta amend that. When you die, that doesn’t mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live. So live. Live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.” This is a perfect example of raw emotion. He isn’t asking for pity either. He uses many ranges of emotions. From motivational, happy, and sad. His word choices trigger specific emotions. “Positive words can evoke feelings of excitement, possibility, and happiness. Negative words can just as effectively evoke fear or worry, bringing audiences to change their behaviors in order to avoid whatever bad outcome has been described” (Barron). Scott does a great job with word choice. His phrasing evokes his own emotions from the audience.


Pathos works when the audience can see and imagine what the speaker is going through. Barron describes this as an example of “sensory details” (Barron). Sensory details are a strong way to create images for your audience which also draws emotions. “While you can’t show actual images in your writing, you can create them in your readers mind by using sensory details” (Barron). Scott shares that, “I didn’t even know if I’d make it here. I couldn’t fight. But my doctors and nurses could. The people that I love and my friends and family- they could fight. My girlfriend, who slept on a very uncomfortable hospital cot by my side every night, she could fight.” Scott paints an image in your mind of his girlfriend being there in his bed every night just to fight for him.


When using pathos, you can show more than one emotion at a time. Pathos is not about getting your audience to feel pity for you. Scott does not ask for pity from anyone. He just wants others to see what he is going through and how he can defeat cancer even when dying from it. In the final line from the speech, Scott says, “I wanted to thank you ESPN, thank you ESPYs, thank all of you. Have a great rest of your night and have a great rest of your life.” This final sentence in his speech is so heartfelt that I almost began to cry. He says it so subtly, but it means so much. This last line has a bundle of emotions: fear, worry, happiness, breathtaking all in one. The way he uses the range of emotions is incredible. Scott touches many lives with just a few words coming from a seven-minute speech. He changes his audience’s views on how they may want to live their lives in a happy and excited way.


In this chapter, I explained why pathos is important, why it can be used for other emotions beyond pity, and ways in which Scott moved his audience in a happy manner. When using pathos remember to draw your audience in and don’t be scared to be vulnerable. I hoped this helped and you have learned a bit more about pathos. And like Stuart Scott said, “have a great rest of your night and a great rest of your life.”

Works Cited

Admin, CCGYN. “Stuart Scott 2014 Espys Speech Annotated.” Colorado Gynecologic Oncology Specialists, 2 July 2019

Aristotle. The Rhetoric of Aristotle: A Translation, translated by Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb, Cambridge University Press, 1909.

Barron, Kaelyn. “What Is Pathos? Definition, Examples, and Techniques for More Persuasive Writing.” TCK Publishing, 10 Aug. 2021,


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

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