Don’t Think of an Elephant!

Values matter. Values stated in clear and accessible language create a frame that describes a world view. The contemporary debate in the public dialogue about values tells us a lot about the importance of framing.

The
use of particular words–gay marriage, Islamic terrorism, traditional
values–point to a world view that right-wing political thinkers have
successfully infused with political meaning.

Until recently it has been puzzling
that working people vote against their own self-interests. In fact, they are
voting their values, not their self-interests. Values are important. And how
they frame a view of the world is equally important.

George Lakoff lays out the
importance of framing in Don’t
Think of an Elephant!
If a frame is held strongly enough, it will
persist even if the facts reveal something quite different. “People vote their
values and their identities more than their economic self-interests,” he
writes.

Thomas Frank makes a similar
point in What’s
the Matter With Kansas?
Lakoff, however, writes a primer on how
re-engage the dialogue on constructive terms from the values of progressive
thought.

For a number of years
right-wing think tanks have developed framing and used it to push forward their
agenda, winning public policy debates and elections without moving toward the
center.

More important to me,
however, is the expression of values that undergird these different world views.
This should be fertile territory for mainline religious voices to get a hearing.
It hearkens back to theological dialogue in the past century when Neihbur
wrestled with the role of Christ in culture.

But, the mainline voice is mostly
absent from the dialogue. Contemporary theology doesn’t offer much to work
with. In fact, most contemporary theologians haven’t yet caught up to the
realities of communicating in the 21st. Century, much less offering insight on
how to express values that influence the public dialogue in a constructive
manner.

For me the issue isn’t
politics. It’s moral vision. We live in a media-driven culture in which every
day a value debate occurs that shapes how people view the world, and shapes how
nations behave in the world, and the mainline voices that should be providing
some heavyweight thought are missing in
action.

Lakoff is about more than
merely re-framing language to secure an advantage in political debate. He is
about ideas. He advocates a values-based dialogue that is rooted in the
strength of a moral vision of the world. These values are, in my opinion,
directly connected to biblical morality and a world view that leads to hope,
responsibility and community.

It’s a
short, easy book to read and if you’re looking for some hope in a bleak
landscape, it might even give you reason to hope.

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