I lost my best friend of 15 years last week. Though I’m not in a particular place to discuss all the circumstances of what that means, trust me it’s excessively complicated, I found that I have been preoccupied with the rhetoric thrown around during times of grieving.

So often, I couple rhetoric and psychology. They have their similarities and are often unexpectedly overlapping. In the case of self-rhetoric, or the devices we use on ourselves, outside coping or consoling conflicts in bats of communication both internal and external. The internal dialogue really holds the cards on grieving. Emotions run rampant and self-checking ethos (i.e. “trusting your gut”) is near impossible. To combat such overwhelming pathos, I found that many people throw logos arguments at me or limited pathos. Their goal and purpose of persuasion is to make me, the grieving one, feel better. I wanted to take two terms and apply them on the rhetoric of grieving. If anything, this post will be a great way to explore what ways we attempt to make others feel better and ways in which we attempt to make ourselves feel better.

The first word is “authentic”. This is a hot-button word right now. Not to be confused with “transparent”, authentic emotions are those feelings of genuine origin emanating from a primary foundation. Primary emotions are initial responses or reactionary emotions and are considered by many counselors to be authentic. Secondary emotions, like anger (being misplaced depression), are feelings that are made in reaction to primary or other secondary emotions and are less authentic. They can be a form of protection that your psyche instills in order to combat or avoid trauma. When we think of “authentic” arguments/rhetorical devices on the other hand, we think of arguments emanating from virtue or honest intent. Keep this in mind as the post continues.

The second word is “valid”. A valid argument is more based in logic. In deductive reasoning, a valid argument is one in which the premise guarantees the outcome. Example: “I have coffee or water with me at work. I don’t have coffee . Therefore, I have water.” Valid arguments tend to get confused with valid emotions. Valid emotions are feelings that match the appropriateness of the event in which the emotions are a response. Gas prices going up $0.01 is not much of a reason to get angry and yell at the convenience store clerk. Conversely, being happy and smiling at your wedding is to be expected. Hopefully, you can see the connection between valid arguments and valid feelings stemming from similar foundations. 

Arguments like emotions can be authentic and valid; authentic, but not valid; valid, but not authentic; neither authentic nor valid.

Let’s apply the concepts of “authentic” and “valid” to the grieving process. Note: I don’t intend to prescribe anything following in this post, I’m not a mental health professional and my observations should be treated as such.

I want to ask which is more important when attempting to console someone? Too far authentic may lead the consoler to reveal emotions of their own i.e. “It’ll be fine, they weren’t that great of a person anyway” or a simple “I’m sorry”. While those may be true of the consoler, they are not very helpful to actually console. On the other hand, too far valid leads the consoler to provide lack-luster or inadequate consideration of emotions i.e. “There’s nothing you can do. It is what it is” or “If this is the outcome, then it was meant to be”. Unfortunately, the only way I could see the consoler being both authentic and valid in their attempt, is if they are also the one needing to be consoled. This may be because I’m looking purely at invention, not timing, or eloquence, or anything else for that matter. Invention is bar far the most important aspect of rhetoric centered on grieving. If you have another way that considers all the major cannons, or have found something to work that is both authentic and valid, please comment or email me. I’d love to share it.

How about utilizing self-rhetoric in times of grieving? Of course authentic emotions would be best for processing, but that takes a great deal of effort to change secondary to primary emotions (we call that “therapy” or “time”). Valid self-rhetoric is difficult to pin down. In the 5 stages of grief, bargaining is the stage filled the most will poor invalid arguments. “If only I was there”, “if I had just eaten more vegetables”, “If I had been nicer or a better friend”…”then none of what happened would have happened”. In order to get past the bargaining stage, self-reflection usually kicks-in. Over examination of these invalid arguments leads the grieving to realize, or find, valid arguments. There’s a reason why the next phase is “acceptance”, but again, in terms of timing, or eloquence, I’m considering only invention. The other cannons fall quite short and vary wildly. People tend to respond the same no matter what happened for the griever.

Looking at the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, it would seem that once a person has identified their authentic emotions, they can move on to the validity. In order to get past the emotional-self, when your self-rhetoric can only identify pathos, I wonder if that is why valid arguments seem to fail? Must the process always be authenticate your feelings, then validate them? Tming may very well be dependent on the phase that the griever has entered, but I’m not sure. In any case, if you are attempting to console someone, consider first where the griever is in terms of acceptance, then offer to console. Never hurts to ask, “do you want to talk about it”, before lending your thoughts and opinions in an attempt to make the other feel better.

I don’t expect much in terms of answer or response, but I’ve definitely opened up a new series of questions concerning the nature of rhetoric and psychology for myself. Thank you for reading and if you find that you need to grieve or that you need to console, consider if your words are authentic and valid. That just might be the difference in healing and hurting.