-by: WB Bill Douglas
I have chosen rhetoric as the subject of this short paper because it is something that affects us in our everyday lives and particularly in the lodge.
We live in a multicultural society. Not just because it embodies the cultures of different nations, but also the cultures of different provinces, and even of different parts of the provinces. The way we speak is determined for the most part on the dialect of the local culture in which we were raised and spent our early lives. So while we may assume that most Canadians speak Canadian English, which they do, they don’t all speak the same Canadian English.
If a person speaks in the lodge, or at the festive board, and his rhetoric is good, we can understand everything that he says. If his rhetoric is clouded and interspersed by his local dialect then we may have difficulty in understanding all that he says.
Take the address to the haggis as a prime example. If you read the poem you will find that it is written in English, with a Scottish dialect. Scots English as opposed to Canadian English, two forms of the English language, but expressed differently. So you can see that there could be difficulties on both sides.
I personally, have sat no more than ten feet from a speaker, in lodge, and failed to understand what he was talking about. When we speak we know, very clearly, exactly what we are saying, because we hear what we are saying inside our heads. But does the listener hear the same voice that we hear? Let me give you an example. I had the occasion, some time ago, to memorize a lecture, I got the idea that if I recorded the lecture and played it back to myself that it would help me memorize. I was wrong about that, it didn’t work for me. When I played it back I could hardly recognize my own voice. I was amazed at the difference between what I heard in my head and how it sounded on the tape, they were so vastly different.
I was therefore obliged to modify my speech by pushing my native dialect into the background to make it easier for others to understand. Of course, I still have an accent, but there’s nothing I can do about that.
Rhetoric, the spoken word, is a means of communicating. If that communication is to be complete then the spoken word has to be clear, distinct, meaningful, and understandable. Rhetoric is one of the seven liberal arts and sciences that we are recommended and encouraged to study. While I never found the need to study rhetoric before, that tape recording made me realize that I’d better think again.
Whether we are taking an active part in the ceremonies, presenting a lecture, or an R & E paper, it is the equivalent of public speaking. Public speaking is an art but is only useful and productive if the audience can hear and understand what is being said.
The study of rhetoric includes diction, pronunciation, proper emphasis, clarity, audibility, all that stuff that we think we do naturally, which of course we don‘t. One of the benefits of progressing through the chairs in a Masonic lodge is that by the time one reaches the Master’s chair, a person feels fairly comfortable talking to a group of people or an audience, It only remains to be sure that the audience knows what a person is talking about.
Perhaps we should all think again, maybe we don’t all speak as well as we think we do.
Food for thought, brethren.
WB Bill Douglas
Kenilworth Lodge #29