The success of King and Kolvenbach’s call for action against injustice can be attributed to very distinct rhetorical traits. Their polemic skill in combination with their thorough understanding of the audience, allows them to challenge their audience, transform their understanding of an issue, and provoke action.
Even though King and Kolvenbach have very different audiences, they both establish tones of inoffensiveness to broaden their audiences and invite people who may not usually sympathize to participate. King establishes a tone of benevolence from the beginning. He addresses the Clergymen as “fellow Clergymen” to relate himself to them and remind them that he is one of them, but he also begins with this calm tone because he is appealing to a much greater audience then the eight Clergymen in Alabama. King is reaching out to all of America and inviting an audience to at least participate in the conversation. It is worth noting that these people are more willing to listen to the issue with an open mind because King distances them from his criticisms. King strategically uses the format of a letter, directed to a small group as a rhetorical strategy. His broader audience is more likely to engage if the finger is not pointed at them. If an audience feels offended, they are more likely to erect defensive barriers that muffle their ability to look at an issue in depth.
Kolvenbach uses a similar strategy as he appeals to a much wider audience then the people who sat before him in October of 2000. Kolvenbach begins his key note address by noting the capabilities of his audience, Jesuit schools “have become highly sophisticated institutions of learning.” This not only makes the audience feel worthy of participating, it makes them feel invited by the speaker. Kolvenbach does this to establish a mutual relationship with his audience which the power of the conversation is shared. He uses phrases such as “Let us turn now” and “we now mediate on together” to give agency to the audience. When the audience believes they are part of the dialogue their devotion to the issue is strengthened and they are more willing to act. At the same time, Kolvenbach makes very real criticisms about the Jesuit education system, but his criticisms are constructive instead of offensive because of his positive framing. For instance, Kolvenbach acknowledges the good that universities have done, but he does not continue by saying it is lacking, he continues by saying it is a good start. Kolvenbach uses this framing to facilitate recognition and inspire change.
By understanding their audiences both King and Kolvenbach are able to persuade their audience to first participate in the dialogue of the issue and then recognize the need for action.