Although focused primarily on political philosophy, “Don’t Think of An Elephant” by George Lakoff has plenty of usable takeaways for anyone interested in communicating in an authentic way that can have an impact.
Lakoff explains that the way we see the world, our “frame,” is a mental structure that shapes our goals, makes our plans, guides our actions, and deems things “good or bad.”
When you use the language of a frame, or negate it, as in the phrase “don’t think of an elephant” – you activate the frame and bring it to the top of the mind.
So when you are arguing a position, or trying to make an impression, the language you use and the frames you activate can have an important effect on the results you receive.
And facts don’t matter in changing people’s minds, Lakoff is sure to remind us. “Facts, reason – these don’t sway opinions or beliefs – They are important but need to be “framed” in terms of moral importance.”
Another fascinating concept that Lakoff brings to light is hypocognition, or the lack of the ideas or ways to think about a certain topic.
When you think you lack words, what you really lack are ideas. Frames can provide words which can help illustrate an idea. EXAMPLE – Suicide rates amongst Tahitians was HUGE in the recent past. Turns out the culture had no concept or word for “grief” – they felt it, but didn’t understand it as a normal emotion because they had no way to think about it, so they were killing themselves. By framing grief within normal emotions, the culture was able to save lives, just by giving people a way to think, a word to use, a concept, “grief,” so they could express themselves and not jump off bridges. Powerful.
Anyone interested in better arguing political stances, understanding the conservative vs progressive “frames,” or bringing some valuable communication to any relationship should read this book.