Definition of Decorum

Dear DECORUM! Readers,
Check out this short piece from Gideon O. Burton of Brigham Young University (original link:  They nailed it!


P.S. I’m so sorry for the absence of posts lately–we have been crazy busy preparing for MUN conferences (look for a play-by-play diary from one later this month) and thus off the blog!  Apologies again.

to prepon
A central rhetorical principle requiring one’s words and subject matter be aptly fit to each other, to the circumstances and occasion (kairos), the audience, and the speaker. Though initially just one of several virtues of style (“aptum”), decorum has become a governing concept for all of rhetoric. Essentially, if one’s ideas are appropriately embodied and presented (thereby observing decorum), then one’s speech will be effective. Conversely, rhetorical vices are breaches of some sort of decorum.Decorum invokes a range of social, linguistic, aesthetic, and ethical proprieties for both the creators and critics of speech or writing. Each of these must be balanced against each other strategically in order to be successful in understanding or creating discourse. Besides being an overarching principle of moderation and aptness, decorum has been a controlling principle in correlating certain rhetorical genres or strategies to certain circumstances. Aristotle describes each of the branches of oratory as being appropriate to judicial, legislative, or epideictic occasions and to specific time periods (past, future, and present, respectively). The concept of stasis included a procedure for discovering and developing arguments appropriate to given circumstances. Cicero followed the principle of decorum in assigning an appropriate level of style to distinct rhetorical purposes. Throughout rhetoric, decorum structures the pedagogy and procedures of this discipline as much as it governs the overall uses of language.
Sources: Aristotle, Rhet. 3.*; Cic. De Or. 3.208

Another Reason To Be Optimistic

Dear DECORUM! Readers,

In the theme of one of DECORUM!’s earlier posts, I’d like to share the website of another group harnessing the power of optimism:  Optimist International is an association of  “adult volunteers [who] join Optimist Clubs to conduct positive service projects in their communities aimed at providing a helping hand to youth.”  All right!



Dear DECORUM! Readers,

One of my best friends sent me this e-mail forward a while ago.  It’s a bittersweet story reminding us to help others and make changes for the better.  It doesn’t say squat about international relations (plus it’s kind of manipulative and overly sentimental like most of those circulating messages seem to be), but it does reflect a principle that is key to diplomacy: each interaction is important.  Every word counts, every moment matters.  The next step in your dialogue could make for a new connection or a new discovery.  And these outcomes can be effected by our choices, our decisions on what to do and say.  A director of mine often told our cast to “do it good.”  That’s what we all shoot for in diplomatic action.  Will we make this person feel comfortable,  gain an ally, reach a compromise, achieve a goal?

Jane Goodall once said, “Every individual matters.  Every individual has a role to play.  Every individual makes a difference.  And we have a choice: what sort of difference do we want to make?”




What would you do?….you make the choice. Don’t look for a punch line, there isn’t one. Read it anyway. My question is: Would you have made the same choice?

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended. After extolling the school and its

dedicated staff, he offered a question:

‘When not interfered with by outside influences, everything nature does, is done with perfection.

Yet my son, Shay, cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as other children do.

Where is the natural order of things in my son?’

The audience was stilled by the query.

The father continued. ‘I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, an opportunity to realize true human nature presents itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.’

Then he told the following story:

Shay and I had walked past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, ‘Do you think they’ll let me play?’ I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team, but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and some confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, ‘We’re losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we’ll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.’

Shay struggled over to the team’s bench and, with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay’s team scored a few runs but was still behind by three.

In the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in the right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay’s team scored again.

Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game?

Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn’t even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball.

However, as Shay stepped up to the

plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay’s life, moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.

The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed.

The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay.

As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over.

The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman.

Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game.

Instead, the pitcher threw the ball right over the first baseman’s head, out of reach of all team mates.

Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, ‘Shay, run to first!

Run to first!’

Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base.

He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled.

Everyone yelled, ‘Run to second, run to second!’

Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

B y the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball . the smallest guy on their team who now had his first chance to be the hero for his team.

He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher’s intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high and far over the third-baseman’s head.

Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home.

All were screaming, ‘Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay’

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, ‘Run to third!

Shay, run to third!’

As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, ‘Shay, run home! Run home!’

Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team

‘That day’, said the father softly with tears now rolling down his face, ‘the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world’.

Shay didn’t make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero and making me so happy, and coming home and seeing his Mother tearfully embrace her little hero of the day!


We all send thousands of jokes through the e-mail without a second thought, but when it comes to sending messages about life choices, people hesitate.

The crude, vulgar, and often obscene pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about decency is too often suppressed in our schools and workplaces.

If you’re thinking about forwarding this message, chances are that you’re probably sorting out the people in your address book who aren’t the ‘appropriate’ ones to receive this type of message Well, the person who sent you this believes that we all can make a difference.

We all have thousands of opportunities every single day to help realize the ‘natural order of things.’

So many seemingly trivial interactions between two people present us with a choice:

Do we pass along a little spark of love and humanity or do we pass up those opportunities and leave the world a little bit colder in the process?

A wise man once said every society is judged by how it treats it’s least fortunate amongst them.

You now have two choices:

1. Delete

2. Forward

May your day, be a Shay Day.


Dress For Success

Dear DECORUM! Readers,

Imagine you are meeting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon for a casual business lunch.  What do you pull out of your closet to wear?

This may seem like a trivial decision that only people like the fashion-savvy Elle Woods of “Legally Blonde” seriously consider, but such clothing choices are important for anyone, diplomats certainly included.  Dressing with class gives a striking, good first impression to those you’re going to be interacting with.  It will boost your confidence; when you are making a speech, working a room, you will have no reason to be distracted by or nervous regarding any mistakes in or bad comments about your look.  Nice pieces can also make for casual ice breakers such as, “Nice tie!” or “I love your earrings!  Where did you get them?”.  The list of reasons to commit to trying to look your best–and, when working, your most professional–each day  goes on and on.

In our example of meeting the Secretary-General (and for all other business occasions a diplomat would encounter), western business attire is required.  UNA-USA offers a handy reference chart of what falls into this category and what doesn’t:




Suits A suit always looks professional. Be sure to keep suits clean and wrinkle-free. A suit always looks professional. Be sure to keep suits clean and wrinkle-free.
Tops No t-shirts. A blouse, sweater, or button-down shirt of any kind is appropriate. Dresses are also appropriate as long as they are not revealing and adequate in length (follow the rules below for skirt length). No t-shirts. A collared/button-down shirt is appropriate and do not forget a tie!
Bottoms No jeans or shorts. Slacks and suit-pants are acceptable. Skirts must be worn with pantyhose/stockings and should not be more than two inches above the knee. Bottoms should have a subtle pattern; avoid loud designs. No jeans or shorts. Slacks, preferable in dark colors, are appropriate.
Shoes No sneakers or open-toe sandals. Remember: high-heeled shoes may look pretty, but they can also be very uncomfortable, so use your discretion. No sneakers or open-toe sandals. Loafers or other types of dress shoes are preferred.
Hair Keep hair clean and out of your face for a professional look. Keep hair clean and out of your face a professional look

(This information and more can be found at

Note to participants of Model UN: As you probably know, these are the standards followed at MUN conferences, too!  At the last conference I attended, one of my vice chairs frequently complained about how many girls were clad inappropriately in sundresses.  You don’t want to earn that negative attention!  Additionally, if you are on a committee with an after-hours crisis simulation, expect to be changing out of those pajamas!  Business attire is not required for a midnight session at all conferences (another delegate and I were the only 2 out of  about 15 kids that wore formal clothes instead of street clothes at one back in December, and he said, “Well, I guess everyone can tell we’re new to this!”), but it’s safer to change back into your professional apparel anyway (“Hilary Clinton probably sleeps in her suits,” joked one vice chair).

Neutrals like black, white, cream, gray, and brown are good for basic pieces like suits.  Accents of color–maybe on a tie or vest for men and on a shirt, scarf, or hangbag for women–will make you stand out from the crowd and look confident.  Deep teal, classic red, rose, and eggplant are universally flattering colors that look good on all skin types (see and   Color pyschology is also a factor we can throw into the mix.  Check out and for organized and fun facts on the common or universal associations with and impressions given by different hues.  (Blue seems like a good pick for diplomatic relations.)

For more inspiration, check out the TV show What Not To Wear, in which hilarious style experts Stacy and Clinton take on fashion-challenged folks and help them change their look.  Besides offering great advice and lots of laughs, the show demonstrates how much of an effect clothing style can have on your lifestyle in an honest, heartwarming way.

Also, check out these wonderful organizations: Dress For Success and Career Gear.  Both are non-profits that work to improve the economic independence of disadvantaged people (Dress For Success helping women, Career Gear helping men) by supplying business attire along with other support networks and tools.  See how much one suit can do? =)


Civility In Committee

Dear DECORUM! Readers,

Please read this great post from the terrific website about committee etiquette.  Mr. Vlahakis addresses being courteous in the Model UN setting, but I think these principles apply to real-life meetings, too!

You can also read this article on the original blog page:



Sunday, February 10, 2008

Committee Etiquette

I have my next guest post! Meet Aryestis Vlahakis, a junior at Yale who competes with the Model UN Team. He’s originally from Greece, and he also serves on this year’s Secretariat for the Security Council Simulation at Yale (SCSY).

Committee Etiquette
By Aryestis Vlahakis, Yale University, Timothy Dwight College ’09Delegates often overlook the issue of committee etiquette. How should one behave towards fellow delegates? How should one behave towards the chair and the rest of the dais staff? Etiquette means respecting your fellow delegates’ positions and opinions even though you may not agree with them or—be honest here—even if you don’t like some of them. And excellent etiquette can help you win Best Delegate.

In any committee, particularly General Assembly committees, you want to make your presence known to the chair. Although good chairs will familiarize themselves with everyone in committee, you might have bad chairs or a big committee. So, you need to take that extra step to make yourself known.

Before the first session of the conference, walk in a little early and introduce yourself. You don’t have to get into a deep philosophical debate; just offer a couple of words about you, your country, and your school. And speak with confidence.

“Hi, I’m Aryestis and I’m representing Greece. I actually do come from Greece, but right now I’m studying at Yale. I just wanted to introduce myself. It was nice to meet you.”

You are now one step ahead.

If you have a question about the committee or the topic matter, now is an excellent time to ask, but do not make up a meaningless question on the spot. Good chairs see right through this, and then you look like a “suck up.”

Doing this will not guarantee a win, but it certainly grabs the chair’s attention. Impressed chairs will look forward to hearing you speak. They may even offer you an advantage when calling on delegates during moderated caucus and pick you first.

This should be your attitude towards the chair throughout the committee. You should not be afraid to approach him. Chairs are generally very knowledgeable on the subject and offer good advice when you are stuck in committee.

But do not, under any circumstances, suck up to the chair. Although this may sometimes work, the chair will see right through it and you will look like a complete fool.

The whole idea is to present yourself as a team player, not as someone who is trying to leverage an unfair advantage because the chair knows him.

The same goes for interactions with your fellow delegates. You have to present yourself as an easily approachable, easy-going person who is willing to discuss other people’s ideas and compromise on them.

In most cases, the delegate who wins the committee is the one who leads it to a consensus. You cannot be that person if you refuse to work with other delegates, especially the delegates who have all the good ideas. Even if you do not like other delegates, you need to overcome your personal likes and dislikes and be an effective diplomat. Remember that Model UN is not a naturally competitive activity, but one that demands negotiation and consensus.

The best way to present yourself to other delegates is the same way you should present yourself to your chair. Get to your committee room early, reserve yourself a good seat, then walk around the room and introduce yourself to the other delegates. You can ask them what they think about the topics or Britney Spears’ latest nervous breakdown. The point is to get out there and get to know your fellow delegates.

Because all this may be hard to remember when you get into the hustle and bustle of committee, when you are not sure how to act or what to do, just think of these three things:

  1. Don’t be afraid to go up and talk to the chair and fellow delegates;
  2. Be confident and polite;
  3. Be diplomatic and willing to compromise.

Posted by Ryan Villanueva at 3:54 PM



Dear DECORUM! Readers,

I’m so sorry for the recent lack of posts here!  Life has been really busy lately with end-of-the-school-year exams, projects, and performances.  Look out for new entries later this week.  Thanks, and my apologies again!


P.S. Happy Belated Mother’s Day! <3

Another Perspective

Dear DECORUM! Readers,

Want to expand your worldview?  Start by reading the news from other countries.  I have recently been studying Iran, and perusing articles on PressTV has increased my understanding of the nation’s (or at least its government’s) attitude, culture, and view of hot political issues.  Check out more foreign publications at and  Soon, you’ll be able to read news articles from your home with two perspectives: your own, and that of another nation!


P.S. Have you found any cool news sources from around the world?  What other ways do you gain perspective on the viewpoints of other countries?  Share your thoughts with a comment!

The Importance of Business Cards

Dear DECORUM! Readers,

In any ventures into diplomacy (and many other fields), you’ll likely do some networking.  We’ll talk more extensively about networking itself later. But here’s one aspect of it I’ve been thinking about lately: when you meet people you’d like to stay in touch with, how do you exchange contact information?  For a casual friend, it makes sense to reconnect on Facebook later or to trade cell phone numbers.  However, for a future business partner or mentor, those methods would be less appropriate.  A business card would be more suitable.

Business cards are fantastic for supplying your contact info to new acquaintances you’ve met in any situation, whether they are a older researcher who may give you an internship later or a student around your age who also loved the movie “Iron Man.”  They are also handy for entering free lunch raffles. [;  Make your own for cheap or for free with these websites:

-About.Com’s Free Business Card Templates:


-Great FX Business Cards:

-Microsoft Office Online Business Cards:

Vistaprint Business Card Top Deals:


Wrapping up the Israeli-Palestinian Issue with a New Hope

Ah! El Salvador is the blend this morning. I could get into a discussion of El Salvador, but what a digression it would be from the Middle East.

My high school class just wrapped up a long unit on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. It is probably the longest I have stayed on a topic with this group. The conflict is pivotal to the region. The issue is used as motivation or excuse for behavior by many global actors, so it is vital to understand it from the inside and out. We do that through simulations. We were supposed to migrate to a more general discussion of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf today, but the schedule switched last minute. We resorted to a Israeli-Palestinian simulation. This one took place at the brink of the 1967 War. It fizzled. I considered continuing with the simulation for the 1987 Intifada, but I felt the class was pretty much done with the topic, and I like to follow them. There are areas in which they need to grow, but when we’ve gone into a subject, and I think they have it, it’s best to follow their lead. They are all eager and grounded individuals; they don’t fizzle easily.

The class had already done a present-day simulation. We gathered from that simulation that this conflict is not ripe enough to end. It sounds counter-intuitive. After all we’ve all heard more than we care to hear about it. It seems to have gone on forever, since Biblical times. How can it not be ripe enough? It should be rotting. That is the perspective of the outsider. Inside the wounds are too still new and too raw, because re-wounding is experienced daily. New settlements continue to go up. New rockets are launched. There hasn’t been any respite. Unfortunately, it will not be this generation that changes the paradigm, as much as the Americans try to impose peace and change from the top down. It cannot happen that way.

There are brilliant streaks of light that come out of this darkness. An example is Genesis-at-the-Crossroads. Genesis was formed to bring the two sides together through art. It has since expanded to include peoples from other conflicts. Perhaps this is the road to go down. Art and music skip over the intellect. They can stir and heighten emotion, but they can also allay it. Wrapping up this unit, I plan to attend a Genesis event and give them a donation. Turn the focus to an entity that is working positively. I have to end on a high note with some possibility for our time.

Know Your Cyber-Rights

Today is World Day Against Cyber Censorship. Visit these links for more information on cyber warefare, rights, and censorship: