Thursday, February 19, 2004

A major ramble: understanding world views

On my 'must visit daily' list, I visit Dave Pollard's site kinda like a bee stalking crosspollination, attracted to the wealth of ideas he presents daily. A recent post brought up memories, and I'm repeating what I wrote in the comments with more explanation here.

Part of my clinical training that I cherished so much emphasized how each personal encounter is essentially a cross-cultural interaction, no matter what the background of the said individuals. Problems arise when each assumes the other to have the very same point of view. This is even more poignant when the two have a superficially similar background: ethnicity, religion, SES, so on. Any sort of relationship problems such as marital difficulties, neighbor problems, office politics can be seen within this prism. If we take a step back and start over with the premise that, yes, despite our similarities, our individual worldview is unique, and we must understand what those differences are, then there's a chance for progress. The challenge is to be able to identify what those differences are, what they mean to us, and then to be willing to understand the other.

Dave has a nice list of things on that post but the item I gravitate the most to is the one about stories. From my point of view, I see it as part of how we develop our own unique worldview and how we endow individual meaning to the words that we use to communicate with others.

To do this work requires an inward movement, a look within. What are my values, my world view, my sense of what's right and wrong and most importantly, what do I judge and what do I condemn? The most amazing thing is that this is not easy work. Not only is it hard to look at our assumptions objectively, but most of us don't want to look at this because this directly challenges our sense of what we believe so dearly is merely opinion, neither fact nor truth. Ouch. I recall a huge section of student body rebelling at considering what we believe in falls into the realm of... egads..."western eurocentricity". Imagine: could there be any other way of thinking? The plea was : don't make us go there.

Because of this background, I cherish Lakoff's work because he's developed a framework to look at our world views in reference to politics. He discusses 'marriage' in this new article. Behind that word lies a huge reservoir of meanings. Lakoff, taking the big picture, delineates two different worldviews, each with its own set of implied values, expectations, and judgements. How to navigate the two worlds requires an understanding of the structure behind all the words. Without this understanding, we can only wonder at why communication is such a minefield.

This new article, however, offers examples of how to bridge the gap and argue for understanding regarding the marriage issue.
    But the progressives who are not running for office can do a lot. Progressives need to reclaim the moral high ground – of the grand American tradition of freedom, fairness, human dignity, and full equality under the law. If they are pragmatic liberals, they can talk this way about the civil unions and material benefits. If they are idealistic progressives, they can use the same language to talk about the social and cultural, as well as the material benefits of marriage. Either way, our job as ordinary citizens is to reframe the debate, in everything we say and write, in terms of our moral principles.

    The rest of us have to put our ideas out there so that candidates can readily refer to them. For example, when there is a discussion in your office, church, or other group, there is a simple response to someone who says, "I don't think gays should be able to marry, do you?" The response is, "I believe in equal rights, period. I don't think the state should be in the business of telling people who they can or can't marry." The media does not have to accept the right wing's frames. What can a reporter ask besides "Do you support gay marriage?" Try this: "In San Francisco, there has been a lot discussion of the freedom to marry, as a matter of equal rights under the law. How do you feel about this?"
I think a whole handbook on the how-to's is needed. His theory is not the end-all be-all theory of life but here, today, now I think it's another badly needed technique to deal with the conservative agenda.