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As states and localities figure out how to proceed on COVID-19, I’ve noticed a framing of the argument that I think is a mistake, at least at this point on this particular issue. The framing I’m seeing is one of liberty vs. tyranny. Stay at home, wear a mask, follow the arrows in the grocery store aisles, and so on. As someone who largely agrees with those who think the benefit of staying home is far outweighed by the economic damage, those skeptical that wearing a mask will do much, and those disdainful of traffic signs for stores, are using framing will harden the hearts and minds of the people on the other side.
Immigration restriction comes to mind. When someone tells me that I hold my positions because of racism, despite my having laid out my actual reasons, then my heart and my mind closes. There is no conversation anymore, there is no compromise, there is only strife. War. Pick your issue — abortion, same-sex marriage, gun control, whatever. When my interlocutor insists that I want to impose racism, control women’s wombs, or see people die, I stop caring what they say because they obviously don’t care what I’m saying. I stop listening to them because they’re obviously not listening to me. When that happens, there is no way we can have any sort of exchange or even come away with a mutually agreeable plan. On the other hand, people can and do change minds when we’re actually talking about the same things and not mischaracterizing others. At least we understand each other and can continue with love and trust.
When we frame the current issues as loss of freedom or as tyranny imposed, I think we harden hearts and minds in the same way. As I talk to people and interact on Facebook, etc., I see it happening. I see people who favor continued temporary emergency restrictions simply tuning out those who insist that favoring such a thing is really about imposing tyranny or is really about being so weak that they’re willing to give up liberty in exchange for false safety. The same way those opposed to restrictions tune out those who insist that they care more about greed than people’s lives.
If we treat others as people much like ourselves, if we accept their arguments on their own terms instead of insisting on some characterization that no one actually shares, if we stick to the actual issues on which we are at odds then I think we can continue to change minds and to improve our understanding of our fellow citizens. Is this still an emergency? What is the goal now? What is the cost of the measures suggested? What is the expected benefit? What is the time frame? Sticking with these, I think, is far more effective and healthy than a framing that they would find baffling at best and outright disingenuous at worst.