Because I married an amazing woman whose master’s thesis was in the discipline of rhetorical studies, I’ve become sensitive to the types of rhetoric that appear in day-to-day life. It’s helped me as a writer, because I’m increasingly able to see and hear what an author is doing with a novel, or a screenwriter with a movie or television episode. Like all knowledge, though (to borrow Lawhead’s phrase), once it’s taken up it can never be put back down. So, now, I hear interesting rhetorical choices used everywhere.
One type that always stands out to me is the rhetoric of athletic competition. I think that the reason it stands out so much is because I’m no athlete (try to hide your surprise), and so it misses making its intended effect on me. It stands out everywhere, though…even Forbes magazine included some athletic rhetoric in its list of most annoying business jargon.
It’s interesting to me because, although I’ve never been anything that could be remotely compared to athletic, I still enjoy watching a good basketball game as well as the next guy. I was a huge NBA fan for some years, peaking during my undergrad days, and I remember some statements made by the players in ads that I thought were quite interesting as philosophical perspectives: things like, “the ball won’t come to you, you have to go get it.”
And I think that there’s a place for this level of competitiveness, primarily in the sense that it’s motivational when undertaking a difficult task. In all, though, I guess I think that the competitiveness is too universalized, too ingrained in the national psyche for our own good (need we look any farther than the violence in our own neighborhoods?). I can see how this type of language finds its way so easily into business culture, because that’s a world of cutthroat and merciless tactics, the goal of which is to beat the other guy at all costs. But, really, isn’t that the sort of walk-on-everyone-else mentality that has been attributed to causing a great deal of national economic grief of late? I think we would do well to leave the athletic language on the court, instead of bringing it so broadly into other realms of life that are already occupying space in a competition-charged culture.
After all, competition is really about fighting…fighting to win, fighting to beat the other person, fighting to reach a goal, regardless of the obstacles. I’m all for reaching goals, but a little less acceptance of fighting would go a long way to fixing what’s broken in the U.S. Don’t you think?