Flipping the Conversation
A couple weeks ago I was watching Senator Al Franken talk to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. They were talking about “pivoting” a conversation; the process of not answering the question you are asked, but covering a key point you want to make. It sounded a lot funnier when these two veteran comedians were discussing the issue. Flipping a conversation is a little like that process. We don’t want to ignore the issue under discussion. We just want to change the frame; we want to take the frame that our companion is using and flip that. We have been talking about framing and listening. Once we understand how Trump supporters frame their understanding of the conversation, we can listen with more compassion. Once we have the compassion to listen with accurate empathy, we can flip the conversation to achieve a completely new understanding of the material. I have been talking a lot about health care lately, mostly, because only Donald Trump believes that health insurance costs $12 a year. The rest of us know that medical expenses can be horrendous. They can hit anyone without warning. I remember one of my sisters wanted to take a sick child to the doctor and not having the $20.00 copay to do it. This event was 30 years ago. Health care is an issue that all of us understand on a personal level. The principles we have been discussing apply to any of the progressive issues that you see as important: environment, child care, women’s health, income inequality.
If you missed it, or if you need a quick refresher about framing, here is the link to that post. Okay, so we are most likely operating out of a nurturing family frame. Our companion is most likely operating out of the strict father frame. If we have been talking to these family members and friends about things that they have done which expresses the nurturing family frame in the last few weeks, we’ve prepared them to make a switch. If we have asked Uncle FOX News about ways in which he is helped people without expecting anything in return, we have given him an opportunity to experience a nurturing family frame. When we make the switch, it will not seem like a completely foreign language to him. First, it’s important to recognize that most people do understand the need for government intervention in healthcare. For example, most people believe there is a need for Medicare and Medicaid in the system. Medicaid is known as Medi-Cal here in California. They might argue about who should be entitled to these services, but they recognize the need for healthcare services for the elderly and people with low income. It is interesting to note that in attending a town hall meeting my Congressman held back in February, he reported that his office got many calls from people telling him to get rid of Obamacare but that they wanted to keep the ACA (Affordable Care Act). It is surprising that so many people were unaware that they were the same thing. I can’t help but wonder if he’s getting the same calls now. Many voters are becoming much more aware of health care as an issue as they see the congressional debate over it. They are learning that much of what the Republican Party is advocating will provide them with little benefit. That has done little to change their thinking on what they believe the American healthcare system should look like. It has done a lot to help them understand that politicians they thought were advocating for them are not. So the next step is to help them see that a more open, free health care system is a better system for the nation as a whole is a benefit for the nation. The question of health care is not just about making a better system for the poor.
Flipping the conversation can be done with any of our progressive or liberal issues: education, infrastructure, gun control, women’s issues, child care, climate change, agricultural policy, care for the poor. You will notice that I did not use the terms “food stamps,” or “welfare.” The punishing father frame, not a nurturing family frame, drive both of those terms. “Food stamps” are part of our agricultural policy. Nutrition programs should be considered separately from agricultural issues. That way nutrition programs will be based on what is best for people, not what is best for farms. For now, agriculture has a firm grasp on nutrition programs.
Where are some of the opportunities for flipping the conversation?
1. Time frames. We often look at programs as potential money savers. When the required tax savings don’t appear in the first few months of the program, we consider it a failure. We need to start thinking in longer terms. Even up to 20 years as we invest more in education, infrastructure, immigration policy. All of these progressive policies will cost more to start. The benefit regarding less poverty may take many years to realize. Some families may take 20 years to recover a more independent life.
2. Everyone’s life style will improve. Bill Gates has told his friends that at some point it just does not matter how much money you have. You cannot spend it. Everyone’s life is better if there is no one living on the street, no one has to beg for necessities, the roads, bridges, and schools we all need are in good repair. We all have to breathe this air, drink this water, and eat this food. Better for everyone’s quality of life if it is clean. Yes, everyone must take responsibility for themselves. How do we require that people do that? How do we care for those who have less and are less able to do for themselves? What about the fossil fuel industry? Do they have a responsibility to clean up the mess that they make?
3. The size of government is the wrong question. What are we getting from the government? Is it what we want and need? Those are the questions we should be asking. Yes, a single payer health care system will mean more spending for the government. It will mean much less spending on health care.
None of this is easy. None of this happens without more discussion, thoughtfulness. We must be willing to listen. We must be willing to consider what Trump supporters are afraid to lose. We must be willing to persuade. Again, some people are not going to change the way that they think, no matter what we say or do. Others can be persuaded. But whether or not we can convince people, we should be able to have a conversation.
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