In the “Ethos” subsection at the very beginning of this chapter, Pullman begins with a hypothetical scenario of a lawyer presenting a case and needing to convince a jury to come to a desirable legal verdict. Right off the bat, I was struck by Pullman’s pronoun usage. Most everywhere else in the book, Pullman addresses his readers directly – avoiding masculine of feminine pronouns; however, in this example, Pullman only uses masculine pronouns. He does not identify the lawyer’s gender; he just uses the old rule of “he, him, his” as representative of all. I thought this was interesting in the context that law is a male-dominated industry. As of April 2016, the American Bar Association Market Research Department, 36% of those in the legal profession identified as women. The remaining 64% identified as men. That’s about a 2:1 ratio. Pullman talks about the difficulty in crafting a good argument that will be “worthy of belief” and be convincing in making “his own character look right.” Is Pullman assuming then that only a male could tackle this difficult task?
Then Pullman proceeds to speak about ethos in rhetoric, saying it refers to “the techniques a speaker or writer uses to appear smart, credible and sympathetic.” Having felt a certain way after reading the introductory scenario, I couldn’t help but feel as if he was relating these qualities of character back to a masculine root. I acknowledge that maybe I am being particular and taking offense where none was intended; however, I feel if Pullman is trying to appeal to a wide audience, using traditionally masculine pronouns exclusively does not do that. I feel it comes off a bit insensitive, which may deter certain audience members from receiving and understanding his message.
There is another section following that touches on character specifically. Pullman notes that though modern psychology calls the “tendency to equate behavior with character the ‘Fundamental Attribution Error,’ most people still believe that actions are demonstrative of character and “if you do good things, you have good character, which in turn means you are trustworthy.” I would say that I use this as a marker for judging people’s character myself. However, I feel like there is so much context for using this as an effective indicator. I think it’s important to consider how willing and genuine a person is when carrying out an action of good character.
Pullman then lists a series of character traits. I then found myself applying these traits to my own actions and behavior to judge my own character. Punctuality was something I hadn’t considered as representative of one’s character before. I have made efforts in the last year to improve my punctuality and stop using “fashionably late” as an excuse for being 5, 10, 15 minutes late. Even if I’m just meeting a friend, there is a level of respect and power to being on time or even early. If it’s a meal, maybe you can request a nicer table or order an appetizer. If it’s a business meeting, like Pullman writes, there is “much you can learn” and “unnecessary resistance” you can avoid by arriving ahead of time.
Punctuality was something I hadn’t considered as representative of one’s character before. I have made efforts in the last year to improve my punctuality and stop using “fashionably late” as an excuse for being 5, 10, 15 minutes late. Even if I’m just meeting a friend, there is a level of respect and power to being on time or even early. If it’s a meal, maybe you can request a nicer table or order an appetizer. If it’s a business meeting, like Pullman writes, there is “much you can learn” and “unnecessary resistance” you can avoid by arriving ahead of time. Whatever the situation, I think there is certainly nothing bad that can come from being punctual.
Another character trait Pullman listed that stood out to me was under the “Be pleasant” bullet. He writes “don’t make people guess what you are thinking or otherwise make life harder for people.” I think this is so important to the success of any interaction or relationship. How can anyone expect to have their needs met if those needs or expectations are not expressed explicitly? I’ve bought some of my favorite clothing pieces second-hand, and I’ve been able to get quality, designer pieces for fair prices because I’ve bargained with the shop owner. In more serious context, you can negotiate better compensation in a job setting, or you can avoid confrontation in a personal relationship all by letting people know what you are thinking.
Though I considered all of the bullet points Pullman listed, a final one I felt stood out to me was “Dress the part; not too far up or too far down.” I’ve always felt very strongly about the importance of dress and the impression it casts on those who receive you. Costume designer Edith Head said, “You can have anything you want if you dress for it.” I think when you look good, you feel good. I think that confidence then carries over into how you present yourself to others and how others perceive you, and after all, that’s what Pullman is talking about when he’s discussing character – the way people judge it from how they perceive you.