Framing our values matters

During the campaign to pass ColoradoCare, many proponents felt that if they could just find the perfect slogan, the message would sink in across Colorado.

Not so, according to cognitive scientist George Lakoff.

Madeleine Jacobs, MD gives a KKTV Channel 11 reporter an self-described “earful” following a forum on health care July 21, 2017 in Colorado Springs as Mary Dmyterko looks on.

Our brains work in values frameworks, he says. And any fact, idea, or slogan that doesn’t fit into an existing moral values framework will be denied, ignored, or ridiculed.

According to Lakoff, conservative think tanks have invested heavily for the past 50 years in framing the conservative message. They’ve done this so well that even the media—who is trained to use the most common and simplest reference frames—has begun parroting conservative framing. Examples include “tax relief” and using “climate change” instead of “global warming.”

Conservatives haven’t waited until elections to hammer on their moral frameworks, either. They do it all the time.

Meanwhile, progressives have operated under the assumption that if we give people the facts clearly enough, they’ll “wake up.” According to Lakoff, people cannot even process a progressive idea such as universal health care unless they have a values framework for that idea.

The solution? All progressives, everywhere, need to begin articulating our values. According to Lakoff, this builds the moral frameworks in fellow progressives and strengthens progressive frameworks in those in the middle. The worst thing we can do, he argues, is to use conservative frames or messages to try and reach conservatives.

So how do we talk about our values? How do we build and strengthen a moral framework that supports win-win solutions like healthy communities free of toxins and universal health care?

We begin by sharing our own values around health care. And we’re looking for powerful values statements like those harnessed successfully in the movement for marriage equality, e.g. that everyone should be able to marry who they love.

Want to help the Earth and all people to enjoy the opportunity for life, liberty and happiness? Read Lakoff’s Don’t think of an Elephant and then get busy sharing your values widely.

Think you’ve found a short, clear, powerful values statement to define the universal health care movement? Share it! Swright@couniversalhealth.org

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