Saturday, June 23, 2012

Framing as a Martial Art

With almost all of this year’s GA workshops focusing on techniques of activism, I am hearing a lot about frames. Each thing I am hearing makes sense in its context, but I’m having a hard time making a Big Picture out of it.

Friday, at a workshop sponsored by Starr King Divinity School, I heard Helio Fred Garcia (who is usually given credit for framing the “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign) say that “you have to meet people where they are”, talking in terms and metaphors and frames that make sense to them. When you talk only in your own terms and use only your frames, you are preaching to the choir, or perhaps just talking to yourself.

Former UUA President William Sinkford used almost the same phrasing in “The UU Social Gospel” workshop in the next time period. So many of our potential allies use theistic and specifically Christian imagery that we would be foolish to avoid it or protest against it, even if we do not entirely agree with it. Reclaiming our Christian heritage and asserting our own right to quote and interpret the Bible gives us access to this powerful language and the frames that go with it.

In these two talks, I began to picture the ideal activist having the adaptability of water, able to flow into the available spaces in the worldviews of the people s/he needs to convince. And I thought: People who can adapt and flow like this must have a tremendously strong sense of their own identity. Otherwise they will enter into other people’s worldviews and get lost there.

And that leads to this question: We can teach techniques of framing and reframing. But what are we doing to help UUs build a correspondingly strong sense of their own identity?

Then today (Saturday), in the “Ten Elements of the Doctrine of Discovery” workshop, I saw Tupac Acosta demonstrate the power of not meeting people inside the frames that make sense to them. He refused to acknowledge that Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070 is an immigration law. “Indigenous peoples are not immigrants,” he said plainly.

I feel like I’m learning a martial art. You have to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. And somewhere in the background is a know-when-to-hold/know-when-to-fold wisdom that no one has yet managed to put into words that I understand.


Robin Edgar said...

"You have to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. And somewhere in the background is a know-when-to-hold/know-when-to-fold wisdom that no one has yet managed to put into words that I understand."

The UUA can be assured that I am very happily holding on to this hilarious legal document courtesy of Stikeman Elliott LLP Barristers & Solicitors and fully intend to frame it and hang it on my wall. . .

The Youngs said...

At the UUA, I hear folks suggesting that before we can translate our faith into terms that others will understand or identify with, we need to clearly define what it is. However, the nature of UUism as a meta-faith -- a faith where we can each define our own beliefs -- makes that more or less impossible. If we wait for consensus on what the core of UUism is, it'll be decades before we can improve our outreach.

Don Berg said...

I recommend that you read the book Moral Politics by George Lakoff to get a handle on the concept of framing and the reasons why it is an important aspect of communication. One of the crucial points of practical use of framing is that the argument that is being framed must be grounded in a core set of values that determine what counts as, first, a legitimate frame, then second, an effective one.

The framing of immigration issues as one of "illegals" violates one of the fundamental UU values therefore it is not a legitimate frame for us. But, there is a robust and consistent value system in which that framing makes perfect sense.

The tricky part of framing is ensuring that you reinforce the values you hold without activating the values of your opposition. In that sense it is certainly like a martial art. In certain forms of martial arts training (Aikido, for instance) you are given the task of redirecting your opponents attack in such a way that you prevent them from harming you, but at the same time you will ideally also not cause harm to them. Our natural inclination is to directly oppose an attack with equivalent or superior force with reciprocal intent to harm. It takes lots of practice to unlearn the inclination.

The same is true of framing. We tend to respond with the same or similar language as our opponents, but we undermine our own values if we do so uncritically.