Friday, November 7, 2014

Patterns. They are all around us. They are a big part of our everyday lives, as organizing principles, and as signposts to tell us where we fit in. We need to feel part of these patterns. To place ourselves in the now of the framework of our lives and the lives of those around us.

But this is a paradox, because when we are inside the pattern, we cannot see where we are. That is why walking through a maze for the first time can be so destabilizing and disorienting. You may end up down a blind alley or at a dead end.  You have to turn around, retrace your steps, go back to where you started--IF you can locate it. Little wonder, then, that books and movies use mazes to symbolize terrifying journeys into the unknown! I think "maze" and see Jack Nicholson in The Shining chasing Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd in the snow. Or I vividly relive the tragedy awaiting Cedric Diggory and Harry Potter inside the Tri-Wizard Tournament Maze in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Every time we get up to speak, we find ourselves in that maze--experiencing the journey, telling our story, turning here and there and following the path to its logical conclusion. BUT we also need to be outside the maze, keeping the larger picture in mind so we can see the pattern. We must know what our endpoint is and how to get there. We have to be sure not to get lost by taking a wrong turn, going down a rhetorical dead end, or ending up somewhere other than where we planned to be, with no idea of how to get back.

Of course when we practice before we speak, we become familiar with the best way to navigate the maze. And we become comfortable ignoring those little nagging voices that urge us to "step off the trail, go this way, it will be a shortcut, what can it hurt?"

But even before we step behind the podium or sit up straight in our conference room chair, even before the practice session begins, we need to keep the pattern in mind. We need to use it as a structural element when developing our thesis and main supporting points. Sometimes we are tempted to go into great detail to tease out an intriguing but non-essential subpoint. Or we tell an entertaining but digressive story. That sort of detour from the speech's overall plan does nothing to further our argument, and can be quite confusing to our audience. So we need to stay on the path in order to reach our goal.

Patterns can be comforting, if you follow the signposts and clues and don't get lost. And mazes can be mastered--with practice and a clear head!

photo credit: odolphie via photopin cc

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