Mentally Engage, Don’t Mentally Eject
I have tried to push aside this element’s impact on public speaking and preaching, but am repeatedly drawn back to the conclusion — No, It really does matter! It plays a part in communication.
Culture and Christian Culture Is Wrong On This!
Our culture and society have changed so much, that it is almost not “PC” (maybe we can say it is not “RC” — Religiously Correct) to argue this issue. To argue this issue is to be considered “legalistic,” or “old-fashioned.” Readers and listeners will just shut down and reject out of hand this issue and discussion. Nevertheless, I am convinced that “we” have it wrong on this principle of communication!
√ “Communication Theory” has always argued the issue of “ethos” — The credibility of the speaker.
√ “Communication Theory” has always maintained that we communicate both verbally — by the words we use — “word matter” — AND non-verbally — by such elements as . . . .
Now you might well detect where I am going and that I am right about readers and listeners tuning, out of hand, this non-verbal area of communication. In fact, you may have even jumped ahead to see if what you are thinking is indeed where I am going because you are of the tribe of those who discount and dismiss this position.
Nevertheless, “Communication Theory” has always taken the position that appearance matters, even if “appearance” has a cultural and/or societal relativity or subjectivity.
Speakers and preachers can hold on to the position that appearance and dress do not play a meaningful part in the communication process, but not without a collision with classical, or even contemporary rhetorical theory.
I have been teaching one-month Public Address modules at Keiser University over the past three years. One of the requirements of the students is appearance and dress. Keiser University is not a “Christian University,” nevertheless, it understands the role that appearance and dress play in culture.
At Keiser, men must wear a shirt and tie to class, and women must appear professional (I know some may be saying — “Whatever that means!”) However, even though there may be some differences in what that does mean, that does not mean that Keiser will not address what it does not mean.
I have often said that while we might disagree where the ocean begins, and the shore ends, as the waves move in and out on the sands of the shore, we know what it means to be clearly on the beach and what it means to be out at sea.
Let me lay out ten reasons that I believe we have it wrong when it comes to appearance and dress as it relates to a speaking and/or preaching context . . . .
#1) The Visual Matters To God: There is a reason that the design of the Temple is visually impressive. There is a reason that our Creator designed and form a world which is marked by beauty (and thereby enjoyed by those He created in His image).
#2) “Beauty” Is Not In The Eye Of The Beholder: This one will probably stop you in your steps! God created “beauty.” Beauty is defined by Him. While there may well be a span which encompasses all that is beautiful, there is “ugly.” There are gradations — from beautiful to grotesque.
#3) Biblically, The Appearance Of People Communicated: Whether it was the attire of the High Priest, or a harlot, the dress or appearance of that person was designed to and did communicate.
#4) Dress Communicates: I Timothy 2:9-10 says that women are to dress in a way that professes godliness. That also means that there are ways to dress which does not profess godliness. Apparently, dress can and does communicate.
#5) Disparities or Subjectivity Does Not Meaninglessness: Because there is a span or breadth of measure in what may well be communicated by this-or-that kind of dress, does not mean that all dress or appearance has no communicative worth or importance. There are differences and disparities in how this-or-that kind of attire is read or understood, in every and any culture, during any particular age or era. However, it does not follow that all attire communicates the same message or that we are living in an era where attire has no meaning and/or no significant meaning.
#6) Cultural Reality: The fact and reality are that in at least American culture, dress still has meaning and it has significant meaning. Dress communicates so strongly that it affects how we look when we attend a wedding, funeral, graduation, celebration, or court. Those who move in some of the highest or most influential realms of business, politics, law, or business reflect the fact that dress communicates. **
#7) Manner & Customs Communicate: It is not “worldly” to regard appearance or dress. I have heard it argued that “wearing a business suit” is allowing the world to impose upon us its vantages or standards. That argument is as fallacious as saying that “manners and customs” of a culture should be disregarded. We teach those moving to a “foreign” field for ministry to learn the manners and customs of that culture, and that includes dress.
#8) Secular Reality: There is probably not a book, written on the actual topic of public address, business, sales, or leadership which maintains that dress does not matter, and indeed argues that it does! Have you heard it said, “If you want to be treated like a professional, look like one.”? As Ivanka Trump about looking like a professional! It is an American cultural, social reality. They seem to understand communication!
#9) Entrenchment Value: While “entrenchment value” may be easily dismissed, none the less it should add some weight to the argument. For centuries certain classical pieces and musical renditions have been used to train, entertain, and display musical greatness. That has to say something for the cultural and social value of those selections. Likewise, appearance has been part of “ethos” and non-verbal communication for centuries, since the earliest days of classical theory, and that has to say something about the cultural and social value of appearance and dress.