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Kairos

March 8, 2010
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Source: Wikipedia

Kairos is an ancient Greek word that means “the right moment'” or “the opportune.” The two meanings of the word apparently come from two different sources.

 In archery, it refers to an opening, or “opportunity” or, more precisely, a long tunnel-like aperture through which the archer’s arrow has to pass. Successful passage of a kairos requires, therefore, that the archer’s arrow be fired not only accurately but with enough power for it to penetrate.

The second meaning of kairos traces to the art of weaving. There it is “the critical time” when the weaver must draw the yarn trough a gap that momentarily opens in the warp of the cloth being woven. Putting the two meanings together, one might understand kairos to refer to a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.

In both senses, an artist (an archer, a weaver, an orator) must seize upon the crucial moment to perform accurately and skillfully in order to achieve a goal. The archer will connect suddenly and impactfully with his target; the weaver will forge a lasting bond upon which he can later build. It should not surprise, then, that the sophists seized upon “kairos” as a term defining the goal of effective communication.

To recognize the audience quickly and make a lasting first impression worked hand-in-glove with building a rhetor/audience bond that would last at least through the duration of the argument at hand. Aristotle himself identifies kairos as intrinsically related to audience–that is, it is important to get the attention of the audience, but to occasionally choose a moment to re-awaken them to the attention of the speaker. That moment, recognized, chosen and acted upon, is kairotic or interchangeably, kairic.

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