Rhetoric in the Workplace

I’ve been thinking a lot about this two year old Garett Jones piece on trustworthiness.

There’s a story that people tell themselves that if they do good work, make a great product, write a riveting novel, or whatever it is—then success will follow. Few people seriously defend this notion as an universal truth, but it is nevertheless a story that is told in order to instill a sort of work ethic to strive for the good internal to a practice.

But it simply is not true. Even in the workplace, where managers theoretically monitor your productivity. Managers do not look over your shoulder all day long. Managers have other people to think of and other responsibilities. At the end of the day on top of being reliable you have to make the case that you are worthy of trust, you have been doing productive, valuable work.

Your trustworthiness and the value of your (choose one: work, product, novel, painting, table) is not Manifest Truth that can be perceived for those who can pierce the veil. Part of going out into the world is realizing that you have to be an advocate for yourself. A principled advocate, but an advocate none the less.

One of the lessons of McCloskey’s body of work is that engagement with other human beings always involves both ethics and rhetoric, and the two are not cleanly separable.

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