Category Archives: Values are always THE most important concept

United We Stand Up to Democracy’s Bullies

George Lakoff once offered this metaphor for understanding conservatives and progressives: Conservatives think like Strict Fathers (SF), Progressives think like Nurturant Parents (NP). A Strict Father is (obviously) male and the authority figure who can tell right from wrong. A Strict Father governs by himself, as he sees fit, if something goes wrong, he exacts a harsh punishment. A Nurturant Parent is gender neutral that understands the world in shades of grey. Nurturant Parents work together, even with those that they govern, to find a solution that seems best for all. If something goes wrong, a Nurturant Parent tries to find out what happened, come up with a just consequence, but the punitive measures are checked in favor of positive motivation. These metaphors and ideologies can apply to an actual family, but the intention is to apply the metaphor to nations and look at them as a family.

Sara Robinson of Alternet has written a great piece on how our nation/family is doing lately using these metaphors. Here’s her take on the real contract Americans have made with each other:

Seen this way, “America” is the family name for the 310 million of us bonded together in a covenant that’s very much like the commitment that forms a family. We have come together to build our common wealth, create opportunities for each other that will secure our shared future, raise our children, care for our elderly, protect our assets, look after each other in sickness and in health, and wisely tend our national house and manage our gathered resources so we can hand the increase proudly off to the next generation.

And, like a family, this is a commitment that is entirely grounded in mutual trust — a bone-deep knowledge that we will keep faith and be there for each other; that we will look out for each others’ rights, property, and kids; that we will generously give the family our best whenever possible; and that we also rely on it to be there for us when we need help. For better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, we promise to be there for each other. The true strength and wealth of the country begins with the strength of that commitment.

Our founding documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – are the structures that bind our commitment into law. Our unofficial motto is “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”. Like sibling/citizens, we may bicker, but for the most part, we wish prosperity and happiness to our fellow Americans and support the systems that make that possible.

What happens though when a small part of the population no longer recognizes the covenant agreed upon by their predecessors – it is the covenant, the contract by which all Americans are either born into or embrace before becoming a citizen. Robinson describes this in terms of the family metaphor:

…there’s another group that has entirely checked out on us, and turned ugly and abusive. The conservative minority is acting like Lakoff’s canonical Strict Father scorned: When the family rejects his leadership and his attempts at authoritarian control, he sinks into a punitive, bullying rage, lashing out at the rest of us for what he’s come to believe is irredeemable broken faith because we won’t let him be the boss. By his behavior, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that he wants a scorched-earth divorce — the kind that leaves the rest of us broke, ruined, miserable, and utterly at his mercy.  He has gone so far as to hire batteries of lawyers and lobbyists to accomplish this, and is taking a bully’s evident glee in his success.

I asked a Republican operative recently how far he would take the “States-ism” idea, and did he even want to be in the same country with the rest of us. I wondered if he thought 50 separate countries was a better idea. He responded that he needed the other states taxes to have a superior military in the world. I summed it up by saying that he only wanted to use the other states for their money, and was shocked when he didn’t really disagree.

Robinson talks about a marriage in her piece. When a couple goes into marriage counseling, it can be apparent from the start whether they are heading to a reconciliation or divorce. The determining factor hinges on how much the couple still has their original dream, the spark, and the trust that even if things get convoluted along the way, there is still hope to work things out in a viable way. If the trust is totally gone, the dream is totally dead, too much pain has been inflicted, and there is no chance of a rekindling of love, then the contract is already broken and the divorce is a formality.

As a Nation, we must take a hard look at that idea, is our contract too broken? Are we so much at odds with each other that we are ready to scrap this experiment in democracy and throw our hands up in the air? I don’t think so, at least not on my watch.

Most Americans want to keep our union intact. We are willing to agree to disagree about many details, while keeping our foundational documents intact. We like California and Alaska, Iowa and Vermont. We like our diversity, our quirkiness, our vast and varied geography. We like driving from state to state without much ado and being able to visit Alberquerque to see an old friend – without a passport. We like that being American is a hard stereotype to pin down – sure we have loud mouthed blow hards (our image in many other countries), but have just as many quiet, vegan, yoga teachers.

Robinson does a great job of using the family metaphor to illustrate what is happening to us. She draws parallels to an abusive father that no longer protects his family, but hurts and manipulates them regularly to reinforce his own power. (you really should read her piece)

Like in a domestic violence situation, we have to break this cycle of authoritarian bullying. We can’t just walk away, we have to become aware and take action; we have to confront our bullies. Even small conversations that seem to go nowhere might start a thought process that eventually bears fruit. I’ll let Robinson close here with a few suggestions on how we can get our family back on track.

We can decide that we’re going to stay sane in the face of the craziness — and stand with anybody, regardless of their politics, who is also acting in good faith to stand against the bullies.

We can work to create a consensus vision of the next America we want to become, and form trusting relationships with others to make that happen.

We can refuse to reward bullying behavior with success. (Or, for that matter, with any more attention than it takes to get the bullies out of the room.)

We can stand up before each other and the world and say: “Those people do not speak for us, and their squalid, angry vision is not our vision. We are a better nation than that.”

And we can, simply, continue to come together and govern. Because the specter of citizens civilly and peacefully exercising power is, above everything else, the one thing they fear the most, the biggest threat to the radical anti-democracy agenda.

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Positive Politics at St. Louis City Museum

Hey, this is Amy Meier, the author of CivilTongue, thanks for reading. I am passionate about my beliefs and about how we humans create and process with our brains. The worst part about starting this blog is that there is so much depressing stuff out there! In reading and researching for posting, I am very interested in lots of issues, but consuming news can bring you right on down – especially if you see your values being trampled.  I am experimenting a bit here so that I can share some really positive things with readers as well. My “Favorite Frames” will be featured  – perhaps regularly – to show what is going on in the world that celebrates my values and makes me feel happy. There are no sponsorships or advertisers (though I’d be happy to entertain an offer 🙂 ), this part is just about feel good stuff.


The City Museum in St. Louis is one of the most stupendously amazing places on the planet. If you haven’t been, you really must put it on your “to do” list immediately, it is SO MUCH FUN! The City Museum is a 600,000 sq. ft playground, in the form of a  former shoe factory in what many folks used to consider a seedy part of downtown.  This museum is very unmuseum-like in most respects.  Touching is not just encouraged, it is required. Matter of fact, you will likely have a lot of full body contact with the museum. There are countless slides, steps, squeeze-throughs, tunnels, tubes, ropes, mazes, climbable sculptures, nooks and crannies that you would not be able to avoid exploring – the museum offers no maps or explanations of what to do, and also very few rules you have to obey.  The museum isn’t even that safe!…which is surprisingly wonderful. There are tons and tons of welded steel to crawl around on and in, kneepads are recommended and many stories of how a late night adventure turned painful (yes there is a bar open until 2). The space is for adults as much as it is for kids – it helps us adults really remember the feeling of explorative play.  There is silliness, sophistication, performances, art making, a huge aquarium, a circus, a ….a…. (I’m getting breathless here). There is so much about it that I love and that ties in directly to my values, I’ll try to start and explain (but I’m telling you, you have to see it to believe it).

First of all, I love that Bob Cassily, the sculptor, birthed this dream against the odds. He dreamed it, found some capital, then proceeded to follow his dream. This is the American dream that I want (it has nothing to do with living in the suburbs or working in the rat race), it involves opportunity and ingenuity. He was like a kid in the candy store, choosing found items like sweets; the building blocks of this magnificent place were formerly known as “trash”. The idea of turning a (not exclusively money driven) dream into reality is inspiring. Doing it in a way that is creative is better. Doing it in a way that actually produces thousands of beautiful artworks is amazing. And doing all of this while recycling tons and tons of useful and beautiful bits of architecture, industrial equipment, scrap metal, and anything else they find is mind-blowing.

Values embodied in this project: creativity, empowerment (apparent in the creativity- no artists could plan the whole thing, there are many nooks where it is apparent that different people were given creative license), bravery (to take risks, follow dreams and buck the city), community (in playing with everyone there, multi-generational and multi-cultural, whos’ thinking about barriers while having a blast?), grit, hard work, and the joy of experiential learning – the joy in life.

Here is what is not a big part of City Museum – fear.  Granted, there is the thrill of self inflicted vertigo if you look down at the city from the bus that’s suspended over the roof, and no doubt many a youngster (or oldster) has found themselves stuck in a tight place or high place and freaked a bit. A person might have to overcome some personal fear about claustrophobia or high places, but there is not a culture of rules over fun like we see normally in museums and in our hyper-litigious culture; it is liberating. (Funny story: the only time I’ve been scolded after climbing everywhere I could find in the museum, was after going down a five story slide and lying on the floor giggling with a friend and we were spied – this was in almost total darkness. The employee thought we were coming from or trying to get into the apartments that adjoined in the rest of the building. The whole issue happened because the employee had no idea that a five story slide existed in the room – granted it was a 10-story “room”. The only way we convinced the employee that we truly had been down a 5 story slide was to show them where we got on. They admitted that it was a slide they’d never noticed before and let us be on our merry way.) Even if a person wasn’t able bodied enough to throw themselves into a child-like climbing frenzy, there is so much to touch, see, learn, observe – it’s extraordinarily rich people watching.

The museum does a decent nod to architecture, specifically the very rich architectural culture of St. Louis – so the value of tradition is honored.  Authority is a value that may be in place in the background (through boards, directors, or lawyers), but it is not apparent to the public. In fact it is encouraged that you “get lost” and you often find yourself in awe of the freedom to explore unfettered by “DO NOT____” signs, security guards (I’m guessing they were there in plainclothes), or school marms shaking their fingers at you. It is such a rare experience to be able to freely explore such a rich and intricate space in our Big Box, pre-fabbed, rectangular kind of world. There is a small section of “straight” museum, like you might have already experienced, with photos, artifacts and explanations, but most of the place is a crazy non-traditional jumble of old and new, fancy and junky all welded together to make a brand new wonderful 10+ story art piece (there’s a rooftop playground too).

Is the City Museum political? No…and yes! City Museum did have to contend with crabby city planners and assumed a renegade role in the beginning. Now that it is one of the biggest draws for tourists, the city admin changed their tune and trumpets the wonders of the attraction to the world. All of our lives are political, in work, play, school, church. Politics aren’t just about insider Washington policy and candidates, politics is about the governing of our lives. This is why the “government is bad” meme makes little sense for anyone but Anarchists. In experiencing the museum, current events are probably far from the mind, but the ideas and values that shape our world are still present.

Like the rest of our lives, City Museum reinforces values that are all over the political spectrum (probably very few people except myself even think of things in this way). Independence and a pioneering spirit are celebrated, as well as a community spirit. It is a beautiful way to show that community, freedom, expression, commerce – and JOY can be held in one place and enjoyed by all.

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Etch-A-Sketch Values

An aide to the Romney campaign made a big mistake. Here is the quote:

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

You’d think that with wars going on and all of the fireworks of a presidential campaign that it would be a more significant comment that shook up this primary season, but for Romney, this is trouble.

Unless you were living in a cave eight years ago, you likely remember the flip-flop fiasco of the Kerry campaign. At least the Kerry camp didn’t start their own demise, the Romney campaign might not be able to say the same thing. I’m not ready to write Romney off, I believe he will be the nominee and that we will still have a fight on our hands, no matter how good it should look for Obama. No Republican nominee should be dismissed, they are all serious contenders because they all can take advantage of our election system using unlimited dollars from anyone they’d like.

However, this might be Romney’s flip flop moment. Continue reading

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This American Life

 

Lana has four kids. She works at the local elementary school in the front office, she keeps the books for the student body. She goes to church and encourages her kids to be involved in extra-curricular activities like martial arts, ballet, and art club. Lana doesn’t keep up with politics, but she votes in every election – she feels it is her duty. Continue reading

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Conservatives of Late, Liberals Underestimate

For those of you who missed it, George Lakoff wrote a new article about Republican strategy – not just Republican strategy but the extreme social conservatives. This strategy is personified in Rick Santorum but is mimicked by the other candidates in trying to out-do each other with more and more socially regressive rhetoric. I am re-posting because it is a great point made by a guy who studies brains and language, and who is passionately progressive.

He really does knock it out of the park so I won’t go into his article fully here, but the ideas are worth repeating (and repeating and repeating). Progressives must stop being self congratulatory and stop lampooning the social conservatives; they are serious contenders to rule this country. To a progressive, many of the phrases, ideas, and supporters for the Republican primary are laughable. The ideas seem backwards and unpopular, the gaffes are unforgiveable, the facts are often non-existent. Progressive love using facts to make their arguments and tend to act as if everyone has the same level of interest and respect for their version of the facts. This attitude is fatal to connecting with an electorate. Continue reading

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