‘Articulate’ and ‘eloquent’ are often used interchangeably to mean ‘convincing with words,’ but there’s an important difference between the two terms. To convey an idea effectively you need to be articulate; but only eloquence can achieve emotional resonance. Eloquence requires a fluency in the language of feelings, an understanding of the simple means by which one human being connects with another, and owes more to empathy than to vocabulary.
Take last Thursday’s BNP-bash. To my mind, Sayeeda Warsi was by far the most articulate of the guests – yet it was Bonnie Greer who proved the most popular.
Obviously, Ms Greer, a cultural historian, had a head start by simple virtue of not being a politician; but there was an element of passion in her responses that was missing from Baroness Warsi’s slick put-downs.
Passion convinces so much more deeply than mere words. Articulateness and fluency are wonderful, and admirable, in a speaker; but it is eloquence that reaches past the thinking brain into the feeling heart, and passion that’s at its root. Greer’s body language – her whole being radiating repulsion – combined with the specific and personal illustrations she used to repudiate Griffin’s position made it abundantly clear how angry and insulted she felt; and the audience responded to her emotion.
Similarly in literature, where the most exquisitely crafted prose can still fail to raise a smile or swell a tear if it is not fully engaged with its human truths: thus is Ian McEwan relegated to the dusty canon of ‘literary’ fiction while Jodi Picoult’s cookie-cutter tragedies fly off the supermarket shelves by the lorryload.
Griffin, devoid of both empathy and vocabulary, never stood a chance. But should a more talented spokesman for the BNP arise, we had better beware. It was Hitler’s charismatic oration, his eloquence, that swept the Nazis to power on a tide of emotional resonance, the evil that was to follow concealed beneath genuine political passion.
As all speakers, writers and artists know, before the heart’s truth the rational mind is dust.