By Dave B.
In America, the mainstream political spectrum can roughly be divided into thirds: left-leaning (liberal), right-leaning (conservative), and center (moderate). In no way does this capture the entirety of political thought that exists, but it’s a useful way to frame the political dynamics in our country. That said, liberals and conservatives are pretty terrible at communicating with each other, largely because they don’t really care to. Fair enough.
But liberals are also fairly bad at communicating with moderates. The reasons for this are too complex for me to lay out in-depth (without getting paid to do so), but it basically boils down to culturally-influenced choice of language. So, I’m going to give some advice to my liberal friends about how to more effectively communicate with non-liberal Americans who may be inclined to hear your ideas, but can’t stand your language:
1. Stop Saying “Identity” (and associated words) ALL THE DAMN TIME
Your non-liberal audience is not stupid. They understand that people are complex beings who have various voluntary and involuntary associations. But by making every single conversation about identity, it makes it seem as if you put those associations above the collective American community. If that is your intent, fine. But don’t be surprised if that isn’t very appealing to people who are less liberal than you.
2. Talk About Resiliency When You Talk About Damage
While it’s important to understand the damage that various policies, actions, interactions, historical contexts, etc. can and have caused, in a political context it’s important to realize that American culture values resiliency.
So, for example, if you want to have a conversation about the damage that something causes to communities, a more effective way of getting your point across may include telling your audience about how hard those who overcame those circumstances had to work to do so. If something takes a superhuman feat, put your audience in a position to wonder if it is an effort they could’ve made themselves and succeeded at.
3. Emphasize the Individual Over the Collective
This one is likely to be the most difficult for liberals because it’s where many of you most clearly demonstrate your separation from American cultural norms. For better or worse, America is an individualist society. That means individual rights and individual responsibilities. It’s irrelevant if that is the most accurate way to contextualize an issue. It’s the foundational belief of this country.
What that means is that many (most) Americans don’t want to hear about collective blame and collective victimization, regardless of if they are collectively perpetrators or victims of an act. It just isn’t the way that most of the 2/3 of Americans who aren’t liberals are wired.
Framing problems in ways that show how they impact individuals, and solutions in ways that show these problems can be overcome with individual initiative (or the sum of individual initiatives) is much more likely to get non-liberal Americans to listen to you and perhaps take action.
I’m certain this advice won’t be widely adopted and that’s ok. What I’m hoping to convey is that effective political communication requires an acknowledgement of cultural context. I’m not saying that anyone has to change their political beliefs. But if you can’t convey your political beliefs in a way that gets a wider audience to at least consider what you are saying, you’ll have no realistic chance of implementing the change that you claim you want to see.