What Language Might Heal Our Family Feud?

By Bear Gebhardt

Let’s pretend that I have an Uncle Waldo and a Cousin Fritz and a Sister Kate, all of whom were part of the minority who voted for the current Minority President. (How could they!) What am I supposed to say to them? How do I say it?

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

I also need to come up with a strategy to talk with those folks on my very block—that construction guy and his wife and that young kid with the motorboat—who actually put up his signs in their front yards.  How do I talk with them?  These folks are, after all, my family, my neighbors.

Do I just not talk to them ever again? Is the gulf between us now so deep, so vast and unbridgeable that further communication will forever be impossible? When I get together with them do I just not mention that huge, snorting (GOP) elephant in the room? How would my grandma and grandpa feel about such a chasm of “non-talk,” here in the family? Or, God forbid, might grandpa and grandma been part of that minority who voted for him (egads!). How do I get out of this family?

Alas, I can’t. We can’t.

We can’t resign from our families. And I doubt we could find a new neighborhood where no one voted for him.

Talk about it: One strategy, of course—a strategy many of us have been forced to adopt here in the early months of this new administration run by the minority 1 percent—is simply not talking about it. But this seems a rather inelegant, inartistic, maybe even cowardly approach to the problem. But simply to keep the peace, it’s a strategy many of us generously, regularly employ.

But, when the time and place are right, I sincerely do want to talk with Uncle Waldo and Cousin Fritz and Sister Kate, in a way that honors grandma and grandpa, about this bully elephant here trampling through the family gardens. The damage being done is simply too great not to talk about it.  It might, at first, be just a quick talk, a casual aside, but something needs to be done—said—to repair the communication breakdown here in the American family. The rift that has opened in our family in these times is as deep now as it was during the American Revolution, and the Civil War. We must begin to heal this communication breakdown before it becomes irreparable.

But how do we even begin?

The U.S.-Mexican border is not the only place where a wall exists. Americans find that communication walls about Trump and other political issues severely divide their own friends and family members.

George Lakoff, a retired Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, suggests “The first thing that …should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue, In general, negating a frame just activates the frame and makes it stronger.”

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Lakoff goes on to observe that, The Clinton campaign consistently violated the lesson [not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing. The Clinton Campaign] kept running ads showing Trump forcefully expressing views that liberals found outrageous. Trump supporters liked him for forcefully saying things that liberals found outrageous. They were ads paid for by the Clinton campaign that raised Trump’s profile with his potential supporters!

Don’t empower: It seems like we, the majority, who did not vote for this one-percenter President, all too often fall into the same damned trap. We repeat his exact words and outlandish frames and the words and frames of his millionaire/billionaire buddies he put into positions of power. We repeat them because to us the words and frames sound so obviously outlandish and off the rails. But such repetition just reinforces and empowers those outlandish viewpoints, and keep his base actively supporting him.

Here are a few of the lessons we need to learn to begin to repair the communication “bridge out”:

  • Personal attacks on Trump give energy and credence to Trump.
  • Calling him names gives credence to his own name calling.
  • Making fun of his supporters makes them support him more strongly.

So, how do we begin to talk again with our neighbors and Uncle Waldo, Cousin Fritz and Sister Kate?

Here’s the challenge: We must deeply listen to the real issues behind the fiery words, and then think deeper, feel deeper.

We must look behind the words they give us, beyond the frames they draw.

Erase fears: And then we need to change the language. We need to listen to them, to what they are worried about, what issues they are afraid of. And then think deeper. And offer new frames, new language, to ease their fears. (Wide ranging fear—on both sides—is the dark force that has caused the “bridge out” communication chasm now present. To repair the bridge, we need to lessen the fear.)

Again, it’s worth repeating, as Lakoff observes: The first thing that should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue.

So when Uncle Waldo suggests we should “Build a Wall,” we might first commiserate and agree that current efforts to keep out illegal immigrants just isn’t working. And then taking baby steps we change the frame, if only slightly, “As we all know, we already have 700 miles worth of fences, and concrete barriers and barbed wire, along much of the U.S. border, and how well is that working?”

Offer alternative views: And then we might laugh, remind Uncle Waldo what a great country we (already) have, and that the reason they sneak into the country is because of how much money they can make compared to their own country. If I could make $5,000.00 in a month washing dishes in a restaurant in Canada, I would probably sneak across that border if I couldn’t get a visa. Our own American farmers have been telling us we could go a long way to fix the undocumented worker problem simply by issuing more H2A  visas, get the farmers the help they need, legally. And in the same way we need to issue more J-1, H-3, H2B, L1 visas—help American businesses get the manual labor they need, but legally.  If we granted more visas, offered more work documents, we wouldn’t have so many undocumented workers!

I suspect Uncle Waldo would have to agree, at least a smudge. Again, let’s think deeper, wider, using the facts.

When Cousin Fritz demands, “America First,” we might ask him who should be second? And then ask him if he drinks coffee or eats bananas, and where do we get these wonderful things?

When Sister Kate suggests we “block refugees,” we might suggest the first step might be to stop bombing, stop creating more homeless people.

Instead of talking about “sanctuary cities,” we might talk about “world friendly cities.” Instead of using the words “Fake News,” we can agree that we desperately need “fact-based stories,” that can be verified. We DON’T repeat the Minority Man’s words.

And that’s the point: We must learn not to repeat their words, not to challenge their frames. As Cesar Chavez said, “Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

Let’s think deeper, think wider, about the issues behind their fearful words and frames. Let’s bravely, openly and lovingly speak our own language, and thus take steps toward healing this painful family rift.

 

 

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Escaping the Trump Tower Prison

By Bear Jack Gebhardt

Isn’t it funny how often we dream in metaphors? And, when we pay attention, our dreams can help us to better understand and more artfully deal with the challenges of our waking life.

For example, I recently had a dream in which I was arrested for murder, and held in prison in the Trump Tower. The charge against me was so serious that I knew I would never be released from the Trump Tower jail.

Bear Jack Gebhardt has written for many national magazines and published books on various topics. Learn more about him…

The dream went deeper:

Donald Trump himself singled me out personally for perverse psychological experiments. He would have me removed from the cell, take me into the glitzy lobby of the Tower, and tell me falsehoods to see if I would believe them. He obviously didn’t care whether I believed him or not. He even let me walk around the block, there in New York City, as if I were a free man, enjoying the sunshine and the ordinary movement of daily life, all the while knowing I was still his prisoner, with no chance of escape unless I wanted to live a life on the run.

Curiously, waking from this dream, I found I could breathe easier, psychologically and emotionally speaking—easier than I had in months. Through my dream, I had been presented with an accurate scenario—outplaying—of my inner life. With such a glimpse, I felt more empowered to deal with real-life outer circumstances.

“Hope is a mark of spiritual wholeness.”

The contemporary Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, observed, “Hope is a mark of spiritual wholeness.” My dream pointed out how I had inadvertently fallen into a mood–an attitude, a worldview–of hopelessness, which, in Brother David’s view, would be a condition of spiritual fragmentation.  (If you are arrested and charged with murder, there’s little hope for escape.)

The reasons behind my mood, this attitude, were likewise plainly presented in my dream. Our current political upheaval had obviously captured my mood and emotions in a way that feels life-threatening, without hope. In my dream, many others were likewise held in the Trump Tower prison, though for some reason—probably just because it was my dream—I had been personally selected for Donald’s psychological experiments.

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My daughter, Annalee Moyers, is a lucid dreamer, and over many decades we have learned together to work with our dreams—play with our dreams—in a way that most often makes our day-life flow more smoothly. One of our dream practices is to go back, after waking, and “fix” our troubling dreams, sometimes on paper, sometimes by talking them out together. Playing with the exact images our subconscious has offered up allows our mental and emotional and sometimes even physical infrastructure to be repaired.

So, for example, I can go back into my dream, here as I write this essay, and have a fair-minded judge deliver papers to the Tower prison ordering the charges against me be dropped, because they were all based on insufficient and possibly even fraudulently fabricated evidence. While I’m at it,  I’ll have further papers delivered charging the Trump organization with false arrest, false imprisonment, not only for my case (my dream) but for all those who have been likewise imprisoned in the Trump Tower’s jail.

Since it’s our dream, and we can do what we want, we may as well send in blue-helmeted United Nations’ soldiers to open all the prison cell doors, release all of the prisoners, and haul all the Trump guards and prison administrators into waiting paddy wagons.

There. Doesn’t that feel better?

We do need to guard against being imprisoned in the Trump Tower. More specifically, and more importantly, we need to guard against the rising sense of hopelessness, this tweet-induced mental and emotional fragmentation.

Here in our day life, we are whole beings—beings who are nourished by the arts, all of them, and Meals on Wheels, and offering a helping hand to the poor; our compassion as non-fragmented beings leads us to help the refugees, and all those who have been made homeless by our own military and economic actions.

Let us not lose hope. We can wake from this nightmare. We all must work to stay healthy, mentally, emotionally and physically, in both waking and sleeping, in order to artfully meet the challenges we now face. Sharing our dreams, both daytime and nighttime, is an essential part of our healthy healing process.

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