playing the pathos

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

I am going to start out this post by saying I’m single and I’d rather keep it that way. I also do not have any children and in all honesty, I’d rather keep it that way. I start out saying this because I am going to point to some realities that people could misconstrue, no matter my clarity and that my post here is not about the choices I have made. I am writing this post because this morning I was reminded of the kinds of choices we make, albeit indirectly, but still reminded of them, and these choices in some ways relate to what I feel I need to say.

To start out, I am going to tell you a hypothetical story, just out of fairness, and this hypothetical story will illustrate my point. Let’s say you are teaching a course and have a student who has children and is married. Let’s now say that this particular student is having a hard time keeping up with his or her work and has had a number of excuses or reasons for it throughout the course. (I’m not assigning a gender to this student since I think it is irrelevant. As far as I am concerned, anyone who has children has the same responsibilities to those children–or child—, regardless of gender. The same with being in a relationship.) When this student confronts you about the lack of work, the student likes to point to all the other responsibilities he or she has, such as children, family life, and so on. As a teacher, and because this student came to you before the due date, you give an extension. Still, this student seems to have a problem with this and seems to be looking for something you cannot give to him or her. This causes you, as the teacher, to feel frustrated as you explain over again that what they are asking for is not possible and that everything must be completed at X time, regardless of this student’s family life.

While this story is hypothetical, I promise you that it has happened. Even if you are not a teacher, I’m sure you can think of other instances that are similar to what is discussed above. I’m sure you have heard people give many reasons for not getting something done. The thing is while the student in the above situation is trying to play on the pathos, or emotional response, of the teacher, in my mind it is still irrelevant to the situation at hand. Pathos is part of the rhetorical appeals, but there is more to this than just pathos, and in the above case pathos does not have a lot of sway. Logos does since this is for a class for credit and most certainly ethos does as well because of power/authority distributions. We have the facts. The student signed up for the class. The student obviously knew he or she had to balance family, and school, along with any other obligations that student had, such as a job, or so one would think the student realized the obligations of taking the course coupled with other obligations. Therefore, it is not your responsibility, as the teacher, to try and make up for any of it.

And still, people play the pathos and think that should make a worthy argument. No. The point is that if you decide to do something, you better make sure that A. you can do it and be competent and B. nothing else suffers too much. And when I say “nothing else suffers too much,” I mean that yes, there may be sacrifices, like putting aside extra money for daycare or spending less time with someone or your family and you need to know if you are OK with making those sacrifices. If not, it is probably a bad idea.

Granted, I understand things happen that are out of a person’s control, but even so you still signed up for X and Y responsibilities. If you realize that no matter what you will not be competent, the best course of action is to say, yeah, I messed up. I probably shouldn’t have done that and apologize and walk away. I know we have all messed up from time to time and probably have reacted poorly. I guess I just wish as a society, we could respond to problems better. We are all kind of awful about looking to what is around us and making excuses and, worse yet, using the people and things around us as a personal crutch. It is kind of a disgusting human behavior that we need to stop, but I don’t think we will. I’ll just try to be better in the meantime and be as clear as possible, even though that sometimes doesn’t even seem to work as it should.


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