Tag: narrative strategy
When disagreeing with someone else’s ideas, it can be tempting to engage in narrative attack; to make a direct attack on one narrative from the vantage point, and in the language, of your opposing narrative. For example, when someone wraps climate change-denial views in the rhetoric of creationist beliefs, it is tempting to directly attack the climate change denier’s whole belief system. Once a narrative attack is made, persuasion becomes nearly impossible because the attacked person feels that their whole belief system is under siege. Change becomes impossible.
A narrative insurgency approach, on the other hand, examines the other’s narrative framework, learning the component parts and looking for points of connection. Rather than directly attack a creationist’s whole belief system, for instance, a “narrative insurgent” looks to foment home-grown insurgency against the most problematic beliefs by identifying ally beliefs and seeking to reinforce them. When speaking to creationists about environmental issues, for example, emphasizing humanity’s mandate to care for God’s creation can be an effective point of entry.
If we are to transform the political culture, we need to think not in terms of attacking opponents’ views head-on, but rather in terms of fomenting homegrown insurgency. The root of the word insurgency is “rise up.” Insurgencies rise up from within. Narrative insurgency rises up from within a cultural narrative, transforming that culture from the inside out.
Last week during a debate with Republican former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at George Washington University, Governor Howard Dean offered a compelling narrative about immigration in the United States:
I don’t believe we ought to demonize people who are trying to do the best they can… How many people in this hall have American Indian blood in you? Raise your hand… Everybody else is an immigrant! The reason this country is such an extraordinary success is because we got those people who dared to leave their homes, who dared to do something different … who took some risks. And their descendants are all here. Every American family has a narrative about somebody who worked hard, came up from the bottom, scrubbed floors on their knees – and their grandchildren and great grandchildren got to go to George Washington University [location of debate]. We gotta keep that alive!
…When the Irish got here, no Irish needed apply. When the Jews got here, they couldn’t go to the Ivy League. When the Italians got here, they had to labor on the tunnels underneath New York. Everybody had to face this. Isn’t it time we stopped and accepted people who want to make America great, and let them be citizens again?
Why does Howard Dean’s answer resonate? Why is it a potent narrative? What are the narrative components? What emotions and cognitive frames does he prime and connect with?