For Book Groups
Discussion Questions for George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate
The Essential Guide for Progressives
- What does Lakoff mean when he writes that “all words are defined relative to frames”? According to Lakoff, what is a frame?
- Can you think of any words you use that are not related to frames? What frames are more difficult for you to see than others? Why is this? What helps you notice the frames on which you rely?
- What are some primary issues in your community and how are they framed? Who is responsible for setting up the frames? Who questions them?
- Can you think of examples in your own community where people seem to vote against their own interests? For what reasons? Is there a way that you can better reach out to these voters?
- Lakoff uses a metaphor of the “nation as a family” throughout the book. Do you see this metaphor working at smaller levels of government? How might the “strict father” and “nurturant parent” worldviews play out in local policymaking?
- Lakoff argues that “strict father” and “nurturant parent” worldviews reflect our values beyond even the language that we use. What political images, icons, or actions can you think of that evoke either the “strict father” or “nurturant parent” framework?
- In his discussion of strategic initiatives, Lakoff claims that the Left has been slow to understand how to apply the effects of one change to other issue areas. What examples can you think of where progressives might have used a better strategy to affect a broad range of issues?
- If frames are understood to be powerful political tools, whose responsibility is it to identify them? Should the media point common frames out, or is it our own responsibility to notice them?
- What steps can you take locally and regionally to get your media to recognize the importance of language, their parroting of right-wing language and frames?
- When he talks about the term “gay marriage,” Lakoff calls it “a double edged sword,” because it normalizes the idea of same-sex marriage, but also evokes a frame of sex, which most Americans find uncomfortable. Do you think the term is more helpful or damaging to civil rights?
- When he talks about the War on Terror, Lakoff notes the importance of putting peaceful solutions into positive statements, rather than just negating offensive tactics. Can you think of any leaders or groups today who are doing one or the other?
- Do you agree with Lakoff’s assessment of what the Right wants? Do you agree with his assessment of what the Left might want? What are the dominant moral values of the “nurturant parent” worldview?
If you are planning a community group or book discussion surrounding Don't Think of an Elephant!, we encourage you to take a look at Haydn Reiss' companion DVD, How Democrats and Progressives Can Win, with interviews and advice from George Lakoff. You can find more about the DVD here.