Rockridge and Your Daily Life

This article is part of the Weekly Workgroup Series published by the Rockridge Institute in early 2008. It was written by Joe Brewer (Rockridge Institute staff member) on Wednesday February 13, 2008.

This installment of our Weekly Workgroup is devoted to the practical applications of framing. Join us and share your thoughts about what you find useful and worthwhile about the insights into the political mind.

Welcome to the Weekly Workgroup, where topics inspired largely by your questions and comments on Rockridge Nation will be explored in greater depth. My hope is that we can foster stimulating discussions that provide grounded and useful contributions to your political life.

Last week we explored how framing differs from spin.

This week’s discussion is inspired by a great question asked by member MartyLovesAmerica:

What are the practical applications of framing for regular Americans?

This question is one that enables everyone to contribute something. Share your experiences and insights about how the workings of the mind enhance your life and help you get more bang for your buck in politics.

I’d like to break the question into two parts:

  1. How is framing practical in my daily life?
  2. How does a run-of-the-mill Average Joe (or Average Jane) like me make a difference in this big complicated world?

Walk through a true story with me and we’ll start to see some answers to these important questions.

It happened this morning. I walked past a big protest in downtown Berkeley where Code Pink, the peace organization, was on one side calling for the impeachment of Bush and withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Across the street was a huge American flag and a small group of people who oppose the city council’s inclination to remove a local Marine recruiting office.

There was lots of yelling, sign waving, and emotional fervor on both sides. I just shook my head and thought how sad it was that they were talking past each other, then walked on down the street and around the corner.

That is when I met an ex-Marine as he stepped out of his car, pre-fab sign in hand, wearing a veteran’s hat and t-shirt touting an eagle shrouded in a giant American flag.

I stopped him on the curb and said, “You know, those two groups over there have more in common than different, and they are just talking past each other.”

He started describing Code Pink as a communist organization out to destroy America. I stopped him mid-sentence and said “Come on now, they are promoting democracy, not communism, by expressing disapproval of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Citizens are free to express themselves, especially their disagreements with elected officials. That is a hallmark of democracy.”

This is where the breakthrough happened. He replied with, “I’m against the war too.”

I asked him what he thought it’d be like if both groups sat down at a table together to seek a solution to the Iraq occupation. He didn’t know how to respond. I guess he hadn’t thought much about the possibility of cooperation.

Our conversation began to break up as he set off in the direction of megaphones and I continued on to work. His parting words still ring in my ears, “You’re one of the smart ones,” which I take as a sign of courtesy from someone I could just as easily have gotten into a yelling match with.

How did this happen? He was all worked up and ready to protest. I was worked up from exposure to the rally. And still, I saw past our differences and made a genuine connection with another human being. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we are both concerned about the situation in Iraq.

This is my answer to the first question. By understanding framing, values, and political thought, I was able to see past appearances, reframe a critical moment in the conversation (they are BOTH practicing democracy) and find common values with someone who initially seemed radically different from me.

And herein lies the clue for answering the second. What can one person do in the face of Big Media, entrenched powers, and a legion of “experts” to make all of my important decisions for me?

Simple. You can connect with your fellow Americans. You can seek common ground through shared values and dreams. And, one person at a time, you can help heal a nation – and the world.

And of course, there is more we can do with this knowledge. Help others understand their thoughts. Catch deceptions before our thoughts are altered. Recognize conservative thought and demonstrate to the speaker that we are listening and understand her. Argue persuasively that progressive ideas are indeed better for society. Demonstrate clearly that conservative ideas usually lead to disaster.

What about you? How is the work we do here useful to you? What is changed in your daily life? And most importantly, what do you come here looking for? Is there more we can do to meet you halfway?


Cognitive Policy Works specializes in providing organizations and individuals with frame analysis, policy briefs, strategic advising, and training.

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