KJ Hannah Greenberg

Levels of Communication

Communication’s vehicles impact its content. Weigh that a stance expressed in a daily newspaper is textured differently than the same perspective tendered in an academic journal. To boot, a position articulated in social media is conveyed in a dissimilar fashion to positions conveyed face-to-face.

Regardless, we appear to judge as acceptable, exclusively, transactions that adhere to conventional ideology and to established modes of transcription. This bias is present in interpersonal communication, rhetoric, and mediated “conversations.”

Comprehending how status quo constraints impact interpersonal communication is crucial since this type of transmission, potentially, enhances our lives via understanding, support, personal growth, and the relational progressions. In Letting Go: A Practical Theory of Relationship Disengagement and Reengagement, Dudley D. Cahn quotes W. Tubbs’ Beyond Pearls, regarding the necessity of coordinated interpersonal communication;

If I just do my thing and you do yours, we stand in danger of losing each other and ourselves. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, but I am in this world to confirm you as a unique human being and to be confirmed by you. We are fully ourselves only in relationship to each other; The I detached from a Thou disintegrates.

I must begin with myself, true; but I must not end with myself (23).

Pirkei Avot mentions the same idea; “הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי:   If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self [only], what am I? And if not now, when?” (Kulp) That is, our self-definition partially derives from our relationships and our relationships, in turn, rely on our individual actions.

Consider that a voice and diction professor might emphasize breathing to better his students’ mastery of oral literacy, while a karate master might emphasis comparable skills to buoy her students’ self-assuredness. Yet, neither expert ordinarily seeks the other’s framing of their behaviors’ appropriateness to endorse their method of instruction.

Equally, folks of disparate social standing impact each other. Review the notorious incident of teacher/student interface between Ancient Greece’s Corax and Tisias;

Corax, a teacher of Rhetoric in Syracuse, Sicily around 476 BC sued his pupil, Tisias, for not paying his tuition.

In court, Tisias argued that he should not have to pay, regardless of outcome, because:

either he will prove his case, and therefore not have to pay as the result of winning the suit; or he will lose the suit and that will be proof that Corax did not teach him well enough to deserve being paid his tuition.

Corax argued that he should be paid, regardless of outcome, because if he wins the suit, then the court will require him to be paid, and if he loses the suit, that will be proof that he taught Tisias well enough to beat him and therefore he deserves to be paid his fee (Hinks).

No matter their unlike status, both teacher and student were able to depend on the standards of their times to engage each other. It’s vital to grasp how interpersonal communication causes people to comply with social strictures regardless of their rank.

Rhetoric, i.e., dealings between persons and groups, or between groups and groups, to boot, abides by communal norms. Chew over the rhetoric of the American Civil Rights Movement. Theologian Thomas Merton wrote about those parleys in “Some Points.” He said that

the mid-twentieth-century American civil rights movement was profoundly religious. Religious themes and warrants gave movement discourse lift and depth, allowing it to reach toward human universals as well as the Judeo-Christian narratives that undergird so much of American civic culture. These themes were instrumental in attracting adherents to the movement in the first place, and in retaining commitments and lifting sagging spirits during the many times of frustration and darkness. Often it was the religious commitment of the participants—the conviction that they were participating not in a mere moment of political history but in an odyssey quite literally of biblical proportions—that inspired them to breathtaking acts of courage and eloquence. The public discourse of the civil rights movement was so thoroughly shaped by religious images, metaphors, and narratives that it would be otherwise unrecognizable (Merton, 744).

The American  Civil Rights Movement’s success, basically, relied on its incorporation of known themes and tropes. The same, American pamphleteering, prior to and during The Revolutionary War, relied on rhetors’ utilization of their audience’s starting points (Yost). At the rhetorical level of give-and-take, analogous to the interpersonal level, the specifics of shared standards impact the nature of interactions.


Plus, per mediated (mass and convergent) messages, established ways of thinking remain significant. John Wicklein writes, in Electronic Nightmare,

The point is that the technology of the new communication is not all that complicated. We can understand both the technology and its implications, and we can make informed and sensible decisions about how it should be used.

…. If left to its own devices, the new system of communications will spread wherever commercial, political, or military forces make an opening for it (Wicklein).

Our movers and shakers realize and exploit the fact that the media can spin our values to the extent that they use those vehicles to inundate us. Examples of mass media floods include past anti-smoking canvasses, present day charity campaigns, and ongoing citizens’ rights appeals.

Per the first, Michael Siegel, MD, MPH states, in “Mass Media Antismoking Campaigns: A Powerful Tool for Health Promotion,” that “the powerful effect of the mass media on behavior[, their] attack [on] the tobacco industry and challenge [of] social norms about tobacco use and promotion, [is] the most… promising tool for health promotion.”

Per the second, many for-profit businesses attempt to link themselves to aid agencies or to create nonprofit status for their corporations, which, in turn, makes their social benevolence suspect. There are multiple reasons undergirding organizations desire to act accordingly. Such companies want to dodge the 90-10 rule, skirt the gainful employment requirement, advertise their supposed lack of a profit motive, find loopholes in state regulations, and gain income tax benefits (Mattes). Therefore, as only some of us are entirely gullible, many traditional “charities” are failing when trusting the media to announce their needs.

Per the third, recall that when Pope Francis ordered the eradication of antisemitism (Pullella), he didn’t simultaneously bid Catholics to change their attitude toward confession. Bring to mind the many modifications in UN legislation caused by the PLO’s protests (Middle East Monitor). Deliberate, as well, the USA’s recent pressure on Israel to cede to Hamas notwithstanding the latter’s massacre of more than one thousand citizens in a single day. The media esteems certain world denizens matter more than others.

Media deluges are real. They are used by power brokers since “we inherit too many histories and participate in too many communities, each with its own account of what constitutes [truth]” (Hauerwas) to fail to heed the variety of influences that impinge on how we make meaning. Whether we focus on interpersonal exchanges, rhetoric, or mass media, all levels of communication depend on social conventions for their effectiveness. As a rule, we weigh the fit of a dispatch to its medium as less important than its compliance with collective norms.


Cahn, Dudley D. Letting Go: A Practical Theory of Relationship Disengagement and Reengagement. SUNY Press, 1987.

Hauerwas, Stanley. A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. 1st ed. U. Notre Dame P. 1991.

Hinks, D. A. G. “Tisias and Corax and the Invention of Rhetoric.” Classical Quarterly.  34. 1940, 61-69.

Kulp, Dr. Joshua. “Pirkei Avot 1.” Sefaria. Accessed 26 Dec. 2023.

Mattes, Margaret. “Five Reasons For-Profit Owners Want to Clam Nonprofit Status.” The Century Foundation. 22 Mar. 2016. Accessed 2 Jan. 2024.

Merton, Thomas. “Some Points.” Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon, Eds. Rhetoric, Religion, and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965: Vol. 1. Baylor UP, 2006. 743-751.

Middle East Monitor. “Palestine welcomes US resolution confirming its sovereignty over its resources” [sic.]. 15 Dec. 2022.  Accessed 18 Dec. 2022.

Pullella, Phillip. “Pope condemns anti-Semitism amid increase of attacks on Jews” [sic]. Reuters. 5 Nov. 2018. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

Siegel, Michael, MD, MPH. “Mass Media Antismoking Campaigns: A Powerful Tool for Health Promotion.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 15 Jul. 1998. Accessed 27 Jun. 2023.

Wicklein, John. Electronic Nightmare. Viking, 1981.

Yost, Cali Williams.” American Revolution’s Pamphleteers, Today’s Bloggers and Twitterers    for Change.” Fast Company. 7 Oct. 2009. Accessed 22 Mar. 2022.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.