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Framing: Primer for a Progressive Revolution -- Part II: The Nurturant Parent Vs. the Strict Father

To effectively frame the issues and the world around us, we must first understand how conservatives and progressives are different. To truly understand these differences, it's important that we digest them on a deeply intuitive, emotional and intellectual level. George Lakoff’s metaphor of the 'Nation as Family' will provide such insight.

Introducing the 'Nurturant Parent' and 'Strict Father': Lakoff simplifies the contrast between progressive and conservative world views by presenting each as a style of parenting. This flows within a much broader metaphor that equates the nation to family -- suggesting that 'progressive thought' is that of the 'Nurturant Parent' while conservative thought is that of the 'Strict Father'. Where each has the following characteristics:

>>> Nurturant Parent: In the Nurturant Parent family, it is assumed that the world is basically good. And, however dangerous and difficult the world may be at present, it can be made better, and it is your responsibility to help make it better. Correspondingly, children are born good, and parents can make them better, and it is their responsibility to do so. Both parents (if there are two) are responsible for running the household and raising the children, although they may divide their activities. The parents' job is to be responsive to their children, nurture them, and raise their children to nurture others. Nurturance requires empathy and responsibility.

In the Nurturant Parent family, the highest moral values are Empathy and Responsibility. Effective nurturing requires empathy, which is feeling what someone else feels -- parents have to figure out what all their baby's cries mean in order to take care of him or her. Responsibility is critical, since being a good nurturer means being responsible not only for looking after the well-being of others, but also being responsible to ourselves so that we can take care of others. Nurturant parents raise children to be empathetic toward others, responsible to themselves, and responsible to others who are or will be in their care. Empathy connects us to other people in our families, our neighborhoods, and in the larger world. Being responsible to others and oneself requires cooperation. In society, nurturant morality is expressed as social responsibility. This requires cooperation rather than competition, and recognition of interdependence.

In contrast...

>> Strict Father: In the conservative worldview, it's assumed that the world is, and always will be, a dangerous and difficult place. It is a competitive world and there will always be winners and losers. Children are naturally bad since they want to do what feels good, not what is moral, so they have to be made good by being taught discipline. There is tangible evil in the world and to stand up to evil, one must be morally strong, or “disciplined."

In the 'Strict Father' family, the father's job is to protect and support the family. Children are to respect and obey him. The father's moral duty is to teach his children right from wrong, with punishment that is typically physical and can be painful when they do wrong. It is assumed that parental discipline in childhood is required to develop the internal discipline that adults will need in order to be moral and to succeed. Morality and success are linked through discipline. This focus on discipline is seen as a form of love -- "tough love."

The mother is in the background, not strong enough to protect and support the family or fully discipline the children on her own. Her job is to uphold the authority of the father and to care for and comfort the children. As a "mommy," she tends to be overly soft-hearted and might well coddle or spoil the child. The father must make sure this does not happen, lest the children become weak and dependent.

Competition is necessary for discipline. Children are to become self-reliant through discipline and the pursuit of self-interest. Those who succeed as adults are the good (moral) people and parents are not to "meddle" in their lives. Those children who remain dependent--who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant--undergo further discipline or are turned out to face the discipline of the outside world.

When everyone is acting morally and responsibly, seeking their own self-interest in a self-disciplined fashion, everyone benefits. Thus, instilling morality and discipline in your children is also acting for the good of society as a whole.

In Strict Morality, the Strict Father is the Moral Authority, determining right from wrong, and protecting the family from a world that is chaotic and threatening. Evil is a major force in the world that must be fought using Moral Strength, which has the highest moral priority. Evil is both external and internal. Internal evil is fought with self-discipline and self-denial to achieve "self-control." "Weakness," and the tolerance of it, is immoral since it implies being unable to stand up to evil. Punishment is required to balance the moral books: If you do wrong, you must suffer a negative consequence.

Competition is necessary for a moral world; without it, people would not have to develop discipline and so would not become moral beings. Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Dependency is immoral. The undisciplined will be weak and poor, and deservedly so.

Strict Father Morality demonstrates a natural Moral Order: Those who are moral should be in power. The Moral Order legitimizes traditional power relations as being natural, determining a hierarchy of Moral Authority: God above Man; Man above Nature; Adults above Children; Western Culture above Non-western Culture; America above other nations. (There are other traditional aspects of the Moral Order that are less accepted than they used to be: Straights above Gays; Christians above non-Christians; Men above Women; White above Non-whites.)

Since to participate in the promotion or preservation of immorality is itself immoral, it is a moral requirement to eradicate immorality--through "tough love" if possible but through punishment if necessary--in every aspect of life, public and private, domestic and foreign.

For instance, those with a strong Strict Father model are likely to support a more punitive welfare or foreign policy than someone with a strong Nurturant Parent model, who are likely to favor more cooperative approaches. Those with a strong Nurturant Parent model are more likely to favor social policies that ensure the well-being of people such as health care and education, whereas someone with a strong Strict Father model would object to social programs in favor of promoting self-reliance.

It only takes a single read through the description of the 'Strict Father' model to see where virtually every single conservative initiative originates. Such eye-opening insight is what we need to counter the frames of the right.

To make the battle lines crystal clear, here are some contrasting characteristics of the 'Nurturant Parent' (NP) and the 'Strict Father' (SF).

NP desires Freedom
SF desires Control

NP desires Fairness
SF desires Survival of the Fittest

NP desires Communication
SF desires Dictation

NP desires Cooperation
SF desires Competition

NP seeks to Foster Trust
SF seeks to Command Loyalty

NP desires Openness
SF seeks to Limit Information to Those Who Need to Know

NP desires Honesty
SF desires Action

NP insists that it 'Takes a Village'
SF insists that individuals 'Pull Themselves up by the Bootstraps'

At this point it doesn't take much to see why conservatives are so willing to look past Bush's innumerable assaults on honesty and focus on his conviction and action, regardless of what those convictions and actions are. We also start to see the basis for conservatives' hatred for social programs, civil rights, and an open society. A slightly deeper look reveals the foundation for misogyny, racism, and general intolerance, A touch deeper and we see an acceptance of nepotism and inherited political power as a deserving reward for the 'moral'.

The family metaphor is incredibly useful and on-target. Thus we will use it throughout this project when describing each type of world view.

Yin and Yang

Note that neither world view dominates anyone 100%. Even the most progressive person has at least a hint of the 'strict father' flowing in them. Appealing to that aspect of each person's psyche is the goal of conservative framing. Similarly, progressives must aim to appeal to the 'nurturant parent' that lays in each of us. Whichever aspect gains the upper hand in a given debate determines the context (or frame) within which related decisions will be made. If the ‘nurturant parent’ is activated, then decisions are made through a progressive filter. Likewise, if the 'strict father' is dominant, then the decisions will be made via a conservative filter. They are two sides of the same coin.

Though the coin is typically loaded, leaning to one side or the other, there are many with whom the sides are more equally weighted. These are the people whose 'nurturant parent' we must activate through framing. Moving to the center is NOT the answer. In fact it is more destructive than it is productive to our overall ideological goals.

Instead, we must present a progressive frame with which they can identify. This is a critical area where 'centrist' Democrats are simply wrong. Moving to the right will not bring anyone into our camp. It will only alienate current progressives and make us appear without principle to everyone else. It is a losing strategy. It always has been and it always will be. Instead we must convince people to identify with our values by invoking their ‘nurturant parent’ using our progressive, value-based frames.

It is important to note that anyone could be a 'nurturant parent' in one aspect of life and a 'strict father' in another. While one is dominant, the other is dormant or subordinated. Also, in any given aspect of life, there is potential for the two types to gain or lose dominance (i.e. go dormant, or become alive) over relatively short periods of time. This is what we hope to do with framing -- present the issues in terms of progressive values that activate the 'Nurturant Parent' lying dormant in all people. Conservatives have been very successful with this regarding the activation of their 'Strict Father'.

Now it’s time for the 'Nurturant Parent' to take charge and put the 'Strict Father' in his place.

Framing: Primer for a Progressive Revolution

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Only a nurturant parent would recognize that people have elements of both types - nurturant parent and strict father within them.

Strict father types see the world in stark black and white terms

Nurturant parents see shades of gray

The republicans are working very hard to eliminate any shades of gray from being considered about anything and characterize attempts with language that implies weakness for doing so.

This is what progressives are up against; we need to express what we are doing as strong, realistic,flexible to meet challenges and characterize them as followers of a shortsighted policy that damage individuals and this nation in the long run

Posted by: Susan at February 2, 2005 10:51 AM

It is the framing and conditioning of the last generation having been passed on to much of the now adult generation, the 40s+ group. The sons and daughters of the past generation, Bush for example
Billy Grahams son, Paul Harveys son etc. The typical Strict fathers type cloning their children. The moral majority types included.

Posted by: Rolf at February 2, 2005 11:00 AM

One can see how 9/11 played into the right's hands with the Strict Father model. The problem is that it's not at all clear that, absent the public demise of al Qaeda, the Nurturing Parent is going to be able to focus effectively against it. Responding to the SF model with an NP one is to a large degree already buying into the "state as family" model the right is proposing. The NP model is a prescription for marginalization . . . even if it leads to better parenting. We need a paradigm that takes discussion away from the "My daddy the state" frame altogether.

Posted by: Ron at February 2, 2005 06:45 PM

The military also uses framing and conditioning and reinforment methods. Why for example did not the VietNam soldiers who had been betrayed by their government come back to America and have a revolution? Why did they not incinerate those they eventually learned were the true enemy as easily as they had incinerated the Vietnamese? Because they had been pre-framed and conditioned not to rise up against the mother land. Those who broke through the conditioning largely ended spending their days, months and years in Psy. institutions or sleeping under bridges or in half way houses or back allies under carboard boxes to keep warm.
Though there are those who survived and eventually
reorganized their lives.

Once framing and conditioning is set in place, it is extremely difficult to undo and can be painfull for those who do undergo re-framing.

I certainly agree though with the framing project
and hope that it does produce results which will have the nurturant parent effect.

Posted by: Rolf at February 2, 2005 08:26 PM

The nurturant parent would ask, "Why did this happen?", "What made these people so angry?", "What are we doing that is upsetting to them?", "Do we need to keep doing this?, "Can we find a common ground?".

Posted by: John Morley Smith, Jr. at February 4, 2005 06:48 PM

Nurturing Parent is just how we are. It's not a frame we are trying to become, it's our nature. We can't change it. But by understanding it we can use it to our advantage. Moderate swing voters have both sides and it’s our job to interrupt the SP patterns and activate the NP part of the brain. Forget hardcore conservatives they are a waste of time.

When talking to swing voters, independents or if you hear a ditto head repeat a conservative frame ask them: Do you really believe that? Do you have children? Are you married? Who do you care about the most?

This will interrupt their conservative train of thought and activate the liberal side of their brain. This will make the rest of your conversation much easier. Follow up by asking:

Do you have nieces, nephews, sisters, brothers? Do you have any relatives who are seriously ill or disabled?

Listen to there answer and then ask them:

What issues are most important to you?

They will give you a better answer to this question after first thinking about who they care for.

Posted by: Todd Smyth at February 4, 2005 10:46 PM

There's another problem that you haven't addressed here. I write about this at length on my blog, but here's the nutshell. There are three basic levels of Moral and Intellectual Development : The first is based on reward and punishment; the second on established laws, scriptures or other authority; and the third based on individual evaluation of ethics and morality. The "Strict Father" types stay stuck at the middle stage. They won't look outside the rules that have been written for them. It never occurs to them to question the Bible, or the Church or their government. To do so is treason or sin, and patriarchal systems are designed with this circular logic to prevent and severely punish any infraction. Those who don't agree with the dogma in question are "morally inferior" and therefore have no standing that gives credence to their opinions nor importance to their rights.

I'm struggling with these ideas, because I don't know how we're going to help a significant portion of the population to suddenly learn abstract thinking.

Posted by: Morgaine Swann at February 6, 2005 12:13 AM
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