In our workshops we make a big deal of using values frames, because they are powerful and we just don’t do it enough. But you can also use frames to make difficult issues easier to understand.
Value frames help voters understand why we take the positions we do. Moral values are simply about right and wrong. If your message about the environment is that it is right to leave a safe and healthy world to our grandchildren, you could work the value frames of protection and common good into your messages.
The values that make up our worldview apply across many issues. Every time you use them in your messaging you not only craft an effective message for one issue, you strengthen their relevance to other issues and to our entire worldview. With just a little practice you’ll get used to working moral value frames into all your communication.
Where value frames help voters know why we take the positions we do, Explanatory frames help voters understand how something works.
Our brains understand the world through metaphors and what we call story frames. Metaphors allow us to understand one concept in terms of another, for example, the internet is like a superhighway and the phrase “Sunshine is the best disinfectant” both speaks to the of illumination of secrets and to the good that can come of it. In linguistics and cognitive science metaphors turn out to be central to almost all understanding. (I bet if you listen carefully you’ll find lots of metaphors used every day that you’ve never noticed.)
A story frame, or “narrative” frame, explains a complex issue in terms of actors, scenes and scenarios. Well chosen, it can help someone see an issue in a completely different way. For example, the Republican story about Central American immigrants is a crime story where immigrants are criminals and those helping them are co-conspirators. Trump and ICE are heroes saving the victim, the American citizen.
Change the story to a refugee story and immigrants instead deserve empathy and assistance because they are fleeing lethal violence and grinding poverty. It begs the question of what’s causing that problem and how we might help fix it at the source. Those who have empathy for refugees are heroes while those who take their children, lock them in cages and deport their parents are heartless and cruel.
A change of frame from crime to refugee —one word— changes the entire narrative and, importantly, constrains or defines the limits of what belongs in the story and what doesn’t.
Explanatory frames and value frames intersect. A story with a well chosen frame can both explain a situation and evoke our moral values -that’s why personal stories are so powerful! Practice and most often you’ll hear in response “Gee, I never thought of it that way”. That, my friend, is what this is all about.
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