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8 Examples of Kairos

 , updated on November 14, 2023
Kairos is an opportune moment. This was considered one of the foundational elements of rhetoric by the ancient Greeks alongside ethos, pathos and logos. Rhetoric is the art of influencing with language and is considered a basic element of communication. Kairos is the idea that communication occurs in a time and place such that a message that is appropriate to one moment may be pointless later. The following are illustrative examples of kairos.

Time & Place

Kairos is summarized in the modern aphorism "right time, right place." This suggests that you are helping to define your time as opposed to dwelling in the past or future. This involves stepping in to provide leadership where there is need for direction. For example, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963 that became a primary inspiration for the civil rights movement of the 1960s in America.
This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
~ Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963

Knowledge

Kairos requires in-depth knowledge of the situation to add something of value to the moment. For example, several times in the 1940s and 1950s Albert Einstein indicated regret at the development of the atomic bomb and questioned mankind's ability to refrain from destroying each other. Einstein had advocated for development of an atomic weapon to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a letter on the eve of World War II. This was a technical opinion on the feasibility of an atomic bomb that was relevant to the moment. After the war, ethical questions were more relevant to the conversation and this is what Einstein offered.
The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking…the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.
~ Albert Einstein

Wit

Wit is mental sharpness, speed and inventiveness in communication. In conversation and debate, an opportunity to say something may present itself and pass within seconds. As such, wit is a critical ability that allows an individual to seize a moment with an intelligent response.
Nancy Astor: Sir, if you were my husband, I'd poison your tea.
Winston Churchill: Madame, if you were my wife, I'd drink it.

Staircase Wit

Staircase wit is the tendency for people to think of the perfect thing to say long after the opportune moment has past. This is an analogy to thinking of a brilliant response as you leave a party down a staircase. Staircase wit is a type of counterfactual thinking that may help you to develop your actual wit with time.
You have a ready wit. Tell me when it's ready.
~ Henny Youngman

Retort

A retort is a witty response to a challenge, insult or accusation. There is often a short opportunity after an insult for a comeback. Once this moment passes any attempt at a response risks appearing bitter and unbecoming.
Andy Richter: I like the ocean very much.
Chelsea Handler: Yeah [pause] that's great, do you float a lot in the ocean? [implying overweight]
Andy Richter: Sure. What, do you sink? Might be that cast-iron heart.

Comedic Timing

Comedic timing is the use of rhythm, tempo and pauses to deliver humor. For example, a pause can create dramatic tension that makes a joke more funny.
Chelsea Handler (American comedian) : You can never remember where all the countries are so it's always fun to discover a new one ... have you guys ever heard of Nicaragua?
Noel Fielding (British comedian): Yeah cause we schooled in England so ... [dramatic pause, unfinished sentence]

Spontaneity

Spontaneity is creativity at high speed. For example, an individual pitching a business plan who is able to adapt the plan based on initial reactions and feedback.

Rhetorical Velocity

Rhetorical velocity is the ability to anticipate responses to your communication in order to maintain forward momentum. This goes beyond owning the moment to predict and plan for future responses. For example, a salesperson that uses a door-in-the-face technique to close a deal.

Summary

Kairos is the opportune moment to communicate something.
Overview: Kairos
Type
Definition
An opportune moment to communicate a message.
Related Concepts

Rhetorical Devices

This is the complete list of articles we have written about rhetorical devices.
Anecdotal Evidence
Call To Action
Candor
Civility
Countersignaling
Creative Tension
Credibility
Cruel Wit
Cultural Capital
Decorum
Devil's Advocate
Dry Humor
Ethos
Expectation Setting
Eye Contact
Flattery
Framing
Heliotropic Effect
Kairos
Loaded Language
Loaded Question
Nudge
Peak-End Rule
Persuasive Appeals
Plain Language
Social Proof
Steelman
Storytelling
Understatement
Weasel Words
More ...
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