Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Sticks, stones and words will break our bones…

By Ken Hall on October 11, 2008

Make no mistake – we are at war! Not the so-called ’war on terror,’ but rather active psychological warfare about the very contents of our minds! We see this warfare in words like ’free market,’ and ’tax relief.’

Why does this matter to sustainable minds? Because we will never achieve sustainability without the political will to do so. And yet it is increasingly difficult to have a conversation with family members or neighbors about contested ideas in our society – much less a meaningful conversation at a national level. The current political debate can barely consider clean energy in the context of national security, much less global climate change or sustainability.

Enter George Lakoff and his most recent book, “The Political Mind.” Lakoff is a professional linguist who studies how we think and explains “Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain.” In “The Political Mind” Lakoff integrates recent findings from cognitive and neural sciences with linguistics, and reveals what progressive (sustainable) minds must do if we are to take back the battleground of ideas about whom we are and where we should be going.

For example, Lakoff writes, “Whatever the topic is, bring in the progressive moral vision and what the role of government is. America is about empathy and responsibility: people caring both for themselves and for one another, and acting responsibly on that sense of care. Government has two roles: protection and empowerment for all its citizens. Nobody makes it on his own… And then frame whatever the issue is in these terms.”

The challenge for sustainable minds is to learn from Lakoff and frame the issue of sustainability in terms of empathy and responsibility. An empathy not just for our fellow citizens, but for all of life on Earth – a responsibility not just for today, but a responsibility to future generations unborn.

My worry is that we don’t have decades to plant words framing sustainability issues in our fellow citizens. Lakoff contends that conservative think tanks have been doing just that with conservative issues for the last several decades.

Lakoff also alerts us to the attempts to ’brainwash‘ the public in media and advertising. In discussions with our families, neighbors and colleagues about contested ideas in our society, Lakoff helps us develop skills at reframing the conversation. According to Lakoff, words are powerful _ they ’activate vast stretches of the brain‘, and ‘brain structure provide words with even greater power.’

Perhaps the greatest lesson from Lakoff is that we are not the rational logical creatures that the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century thought we were. In the 21st century, we understand the degree to which our minds are embodied, and our emotions drive our thinking. Sustainable minds are 21st century minds prepared for active psychological warfare.

Sustainable minds understand that words CAN HURT US – they also have the power to heal us and the world that sustains us.


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