My worry is that the Democrats will take the wrong lessons from the Republican victories, that they will start simplifying issues and playing to emotions and value.
Which, for me, are exactly the lessons that progressives should be learning.
Respect the entire person, not just their brain
Many progressives fear that when we simplify, when we appeal to emotions, and when we evoke moral values that we are disrespecting people by not appealing to their intellect.
I take the opposite view. We respect our audience when we acknowledge the complexity that they already face and when we deal with them as complete people: head, heart, and spirit.
The beauty of simplification
Most people I know these days are overwhelmed by the complexity of the world. The challenges of balancing work, family, leisure, friends, faith, and community are formidable, especially after you add in the information overload that the Internet brings us.
In this situation, you respect someone by recognizing that they may not have much energy left to think about your issue. If you can’t make it easy, they will tune you out. They have too much on your mind. That’s their reality–get over it.
You have two options: respect that they are overwhelmed, simplify your message, and reach your audience OR insist that they give you more attention that they can spare, disregard the stress that their overwhelmed life gives them, and then complain when they don’t pay attention.
Appeal to emotions
Emotions are important.
Emotions are powerful.
I’m more attached to my emotions than I am to my thoughts. My love for my wife, my anger at the war, my hope for fixing health care in Michigan; all these are more important to me than my thoughts about the relative merits of single-payer versus insurance mandates for covering the uninsured.
Respect this emotional part of me and the others in your audience…speak to our hearts.
Express your values.
Joe Reilly and bumper stickers proclaim “if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.”
Values, like emotions, are powerful. If you ignore them, you ignore a crucial part of your audience…and of yourself.
Stand for something. Speak your values. Appeal to the values of others.
The complete picture
None of this is to denigrate the role of the intellect in communication. Yes, we need the facts, the arguments. We need to respect people’s brains as well. I’m not calling to jettison rationality in favor of a euphoric emotionalism.
I’m calling on progressives to respect our audiences in their entirety.
Respect the craziness of their lives.
Respect their heart and their emotions.
Respect their soul and their values.
And yes, respect their head and their intellect.
Respect them completely. Listen to them completely.
And then they may choose to listen to you and respect you.
Photo by http://flickr.com/photos/gaetanlee/