Fear is a powerful emotion. Should we use it*? We get this question in our workshops and it’s a legitimate one.
The GOP and dark money groups use fear for fears sake and look for ways to apply it across all the issues. When people are afraid, their ability to reason diminishes. It causes people to flock together for protection, solidifying support from those they’ve pulled to their side. That fear is often directed against an “other” which causes divisiveness and hate. These tricks are nothing new. They have been used throughout history by countless rulers and aristocrats to concentrate wealth and power. (And be aware that the same tricks are designed to bait us into responding in ways that strengthen their message while keeping us off ours.)
Should we use fear? Not as a propaganda technique and not to the exclusion of our positive vision.
So, how do you talk about things people have every right to be afraid of? Effective framing is about morality -what’s right and wrong . Tell real stories about the effects of bad policy on real people. Say explicitly why you care. If those stories make people afraid, it’s an honest fear based on real experience. Crucially important: Don’t forget to talk about the positive effects of our policies.
All of this is rooted in psychology, as it must be because we are talking about people. The GOP is way ahead of us on cognitive science and uses it dishonestly. We need to catch up and use it with honesty and integrity.
* This image is from Lyndon Johnson’s infamous “Daisy” ad, an early negative ad. I think we can do better.