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Chapter 14. Why Not See It My Way?: Pers... > Take the High Road: Appeal to Ethics - Pg. 158

Why Not See It My Way?: Persuasion and Argumentation We hold these truths to be selfevident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. --Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence (1776) 158 Take the High Road: Appeal to Ethics Ethics is our moral sense, our sense of right and wrong. The credibility and persuasiveness of your claims is in direct proportion to your reader's view of you as a person of good sense, good moral character, and good intentions--your ethics. Your trust- worthiness arises from the quality of your proof and your ability to take the high ground. Cheap shots weaken your argument, especially if they intentionally deceive your audience. The following argument is especially strong not only because it draws on solid examples and ethics, but also because the writer is not afraid to admit his own culpability. The Blame Game "Yes, I did it, but it wasn't my fault." Yes, it was your fault. Today, it has become common to disavow our actions. This practice is used in many situations, such as the Menendez brothers' defense, Joel Rifkin's defense, and my own defense. It is time for everyone to accept respon- sibility for their actions and deal with the consequences. On the night of August 20, 1989, the Menendez brothers, 21-year-old Lyle and 18-year-old Erik, brutally murdered their parents by shooting them 15 times with a 12-gauge shotgun. The broth- ers claimed that their parents, Jose and Kitty, abused them physically, mentally, and sexually. When Jose and Kitty were gunned down, they were quietly watching television. To be acquitted of the murders, the Menendez brothers had to prove that their lives were in imminent danger. I cannot understand how they could claim this, but Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor, said, "It was probably their only defense." The trial lasted five months. When it was over, the brothers were acquitted of murder. By denying responsibility for their actions, the Menendez brothers were able to get away with murder. Another example of denying responsibility is Joel Rifkin's defense. Accused of strangling 17 women, Rifkin failed in his first attempt to be exonerated. On June 8, 1994, Rifkin was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. But as the saying goes, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. For his next trial, Rifkin tried a variation of the insanity defense called the "adopted child syn- drome." Rifkin's lawyer, Martin Efman, argued that the trauma of being separated from his mother led Joel to strike back at women he identified with her. Dr. David Bordzinsky, a professor of law at Rutgers University, called the defense "a bunch of malarkey." Fortunately, the jury agreed. People don't have to be murderers to deny responsibility for their actions. On July 30, I was driving to Cleveland, Ohio, when a police officer pulled me over and informed me that I was driving 70 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. He then issued me a summons for speeding. Even though I knew I was speeding, I wouldn't admit it. On October 9, I went to the Mt. Olive Municipal Court in an attempt to shirk my guilt. However, I was convicted and fined $100. It doesn't matter if people succeed in escaping responsibility for something they have done. The fact that they tried to escape responsibility is wrong. Until we realize this, I think we are likely to see more cases similar to those of the Menendez brothers, Joel Rifkin--and me. Tug the Heartstrings: Appeal to Emotion I Will Fight No More Forever