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Saviours and other false gods

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One of the many hazards of writing a blog dedicated to framing issues from a progressive point of view is the inevitable let down that there is no single magic answer to growing the progressive base in Canada.

Framing -- certainly the moral/values based approach George Lakoff promotes in the U.S. -- has caught the attention of many thoughtful and smart progressives in Canada.

The odds are very high that if you attend a meeting of progressives focused on communications, someone will inevitably talk about 'framing' and reference Lakoff. Frequently, the word 'framing' is really used as a buzz word replacement for 'spin', which used to be the language du jour before Lakoff came along.

We progressives are keen to learn new words to describe our communications work. Appreciating and understanding the deep concepts beneath the word 'framing' is another matter.

When we treat framing as spin, we tap into what Lakoff calls surface frames -- and our tougher challenge is to connect with our audience in a way that makes them feel emotional, that sparks our shared values and morals, rather than skims the surface. Deep frames are what we seek. This isn't easy to do. I view it as a long-term process.

Also, shortcomings: many progressives who read Lakoff reach a point of frustration. Their frustration is rooted in multiple deep critiques -- American political scientist and media critic Brendan Nyahn does a good job summarizing those critiques in this blog. Also, this lively rabble.ca exchange.

Progressives, long committed to the goals of enlightenment, are excellent at offering critique. This practice lends itself to one of my personal life theories: our greatest strength is often our greatest weakness. While we're busy tearing apart the weaknesses in Lakoff's approach to issue framing, we divert our attention from the constructive work of improving how we communicate those core values that are not only progressive in nature, but also Canadian.

Here's how I see it: George Lakoff has provided a service in linking politics, communications, linguistics and cognitive psychology under the rubric of framing. He has advanced a theory that is part critique and part infrastructure for moving forward. His contribution is part of centuries of intellectual thought and lived reality that inform what it is to be progressive in this day and age.

The rest is up to us. There is no path. We make the path by walking on it.

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