Do you know just how powerful words are? How they affect other people? Words are a potent tool that can be used for both good and evil. They have the potential to inspire creativity and imagination……..both of which can be beautiful or dangerous. Persuasive speech is probably the most influential type of oration. A persuasive person is hard to refute, but easy to believe. No one wants to be stuck believing a lie do they? How can you tell whether what they are telling you is true or false? I am thinking specifically in the context of a court hearing. You are listening to an argument from opposing sides on a hotly debated topic. Who do you believe? How can you choose your stance on this issue when both rivals are compelling, equally persuasive?
Surprisingly, the Bible has something to say concerning this dilemma. Proverbs 18:17 reads:
“In a lawsuit the first person who speaks seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”
The Bible states that cross-examination is the key to determining whether or not you should believe someone. How do they hold up to the pressure under intense questioning? Do their responses even make sense? It is not so much the opening argument that matters, because it will be the most smooth and persuasive section of the debate; but it is the questioning of the orator’s case that tells you a lot about what they believe, why they believe it and whether or not you should agree with them.
An excellent example of this would be the 2008 case of the Supreme Court, District of Columbia vs Heller, on whether or not the second amendment right to “keep and bear arms” is an individual right of the people, or a strictly military right. The amendment reads as follows:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Walter E. Dellinger was the opening argument on behalf of the petitioners. He argued that the second amendment right was a right granted exclusively to the Militia; not the people:
“In the debates over the Second Amendment, every person who used the phrase “bear arms” used it to refer to the use of arms in connection with militia service and when Madison introduced the amendment in the first Congress, he exactly equated the phrase “bearing arms” with, quote “rendering military service.”…………And even if the language of keeping and bearing arms were ambiguous, the amendment’s first clause confirms that the right is militia-related.”
Walter Dellinger’s opening remarks were definitely well-rounded and persuasive; he had a lot of examples of how the phrasing was used in history on his side, and he even quoted Madison, one of the great founding fathers. However, once the judges started their cross-examination and probing questions, certain flaws in his argument were revealed. Chief Justice Roberts brought up the point that if the amendment were only concerning militia, why did it use the phrase “the right of the people”? This threw a hole into the well-organized reasoning of Mr. Dellinger. Ultimately, in a 5 to 4 vote the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Second Amendment being a right of all people, not just State militias.
when trying to determine the best position to take in a certain argument, don’t rely solely on the long, elaborate speeches of opposing sides, but listen carefully to the cross-examination to determine the flaws in their reasoning.