Writing

Perceptions

Introduction

Gorgias of Leontini, who lived approximately between the years 485 to 330 B.C., is known as "one of the greatest early teachers and practitioners of the art of rhetoric" (Herrick, 1997, p. 39). His rhetorical theories included a study of the sounds of words in relation to words' persuasive powers. Among his most famous rhetorical observations is what is now called "skeptical philosophy" (Herrick, 1997, p. 39): "1. Nothing exists. 2. If anything did exist, we could not know it. 3. If we could know that something existed, we would not be able to communicate it to anyone else." Though this theory, on the surface, does not seem to make much logical sense, when it is viewed from a communicative perspective, it can be devised what Gorgias meant. Simply stated, two or more people will not view the same information the same way, therefore, nothing exists the same way for two different people, for "we do not experience reality directly, only through the words we use to call reality into existence, and that since each one of us experiences the world uniquely and chooses words differently, it is impossible to communicate perfectly with others" (Murphy, 2003, p. 39).

Examples

The Battle of Culloden, fought in 1746 near Inverness, Scotland, was the last pitched battle fought on British soil. The battle was the culmination of decades worth of political infighting and religious differences. To this day, the people of northern Scotland claim that what happened on that day, April 16, 1746, was the final blow in England's oppression of the Scots. They believe that the Hanoverian king, George III, was a usurper to the throne of the by-then-combined English and Scottish monarchy. On the other side of the issue, the English defended the actions taken against the Scots and their leader, "Bonnie" Prince Charles Edward Stuart, or the Young Pretender, as he was called at the English parliament, by saying that the Jacobeans had been exiled legally and no longer had a claim to either throne. It is easy to see from this example how the views of the realities of the event differ between the two nations: Scotland firmly believed that they were oppressed and the revolution attempts were the only way to restore the proper claimant to the throne. The English viewed the events as putting a stop to an insurgent would-be monarch and the chaos that would, inevitably follow. This is one example of how Gorgias' theory can be applied to a large-scale picture: the different sides of a past issue on a national level.

But Gorgias' theory also can be applied to personal-level relationships, such as between married couples, parents and children, employers and employees, and most any other person-to-person communication. What one party experiences will be interpreted differently by another party. Just as any form of the written word-whether fiction or not-is subjective and subject to filtering through a reader's perspective of experiences, knowledge, and preconceived notions, so is any form of communication. For instance, suppose we have a married couple who have just had an argument. The wife believes that the husband has been ignoring her and been off "doing his own thing." But his perspective is different: he felt that he was giving her space and letting her do what she pleased and he was only entertaining himself in the meantime. Another example can be made using the modern workplace as a model. Let's assume that, in this instance, we have two employees responsible for the same job but on differing shifts: one for dayshift and one for nightshift. During the course of the day, a piece of machinery is broken or-in an office situation-a file is lost. One employee-let's say the night shifter-is cleared of the matter, so that leaves the day shifter, but, in the night shifter's point of view, management does not punish the at-fault employee, leaving the night shifter baffled. In the night shifter's reality, someone made the mistake yet no one is being punished for it, seemingly devising a "double standard" between various employees. Yet the day shifter's point of view is simply that the mistake was an accident, and apologies and/or reparations were made, so the matter is now a non-issue. The reality of the matter is quite different between the two mostly because both employees did not experience the same thing throughout the incident.

Yet another example can be gleaned from the modern legal system that pits the prosecution against the defense. Many of the cases evolve into instances of "your word against mine," which, in reality, is one person's perception against another person's view of events.

Evaluation

Point of view: in fiction writing, it is the perspective that readers are allowed to view the plot of the story through, chosen by the writer. As mentioned earlier, readers are apt to filter what is written through their own experiences, knowledge, and prejudices regardless of the writer's intention. This is the same theory that Gorgias proposed in his "skeptical philosophy." Regardless of what one person tries to communicate to another-and regardless of means, mode, or words chosen-the exact experience cannot and will not be understood by the recipient.

Works Cited

Herrick, J. A. (1997). The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Murphy, J. J. (2003). A Synoptic History of Classical Rhetoric (3rd ed.). New York: Random House.