(This is not a fully written blog post. I’m making notes here for a more well-developed blog post later.)
Nut graf: Stay positive. Defend what you believe in rather than criticizing what you don’t. Describe the benefits of the idea that you are promoting, not the shortcomings of the idea that you oppose. A positive focus keeps the discussion more pleasant; helps you think more clearly; is more effective in opening minds because it is less likely to trigger defensiveness; makes you seem more sympathetic and easier to agree with; is more likely to evoke shared values; and avoids reinforcing negative messages about your own ideas.
When Lakoff tells us “Don’t say ‘Don’t think of an elephant,” he is violating his own instruction. He intended to teach us to say “Think of a donkey.”
Instead of asking your listener to remove an idea from his or her mind with nothing to replace it, these statements give the listener something to take its place. Compare a “Obama is not a Muslim,” to “Obama attends a Christian church and is raising his daughters in the Christian faith.” The first statement creates a sort of intellectual vacuum: What is Obama? And nature abhors a vacuum. The best way to get a toddler to behave well is to distract him with something good and interesting. And the best way to displace a false or dysfunctional idea is to provide a true or productive idea that replaces it.
Use as example Adam and Andrew’s energetic opposition to the Green Party tonight at the WGN meeting: “They’re out to destroy the Democratic Party. All they do is attack the Democratic Party. Did you see Jill Stein’s table at the festival–it was all “Democrats and Republicans are exactly the same!” “Democrats are corporate puppets!” (etc. etc.) I had to admit he was right. I’m as sympathetic to the Green Party as I am to any political party. But I know what Adam and Andrew were talking about. I know what the Green Party was trying to do: they beleive they have no chance of attracting support from Repubican voters; they don’t even try to talk them out of their party affiliation, so they don’t bother attacking the GOP. They want to peel Democratic voters away from that party, so they attack it.
What if, when Adam and Andrew had passed Jill Stein’s table and seen nothing but positive messages: The Green Party will protect the environment better than any other party! Protect the working class better than any other party!
Staying positive sets off fewer alarms, less amygdala reaction from the person you’re contradicting.