This article appeared in the February 03, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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How to reframe a debate? Focus on the heart.

Alex McIntyre/The Greeley Tribune/AP
A demonstrator holds a sign reading "Climate Justice Now!" during the Greeley Women's March in Colorado Jan. 18, 2020. To get people to reframe a debate, one climate scientist says, concentrate on collective values.
Clayton Collins
Director, editorial innovation

One partisan process, the Senate impeachment trial, wraps up. Today intraparty challengers get real in Iowa. The points of contention are familiar: health care, wages, climate, more.

Never mind the politicians. Can individuals better frame these debates? Can we assert facts without judgment?

On a biggie – climate change – Katharine Hayhoe has “found a strategy that works,” reports Harvard Business Review: “focusing on the heart – that is, what we collectively value – as opposed to the head.” 

Dr. Hayhoe, a climate scientist we’ve interviewed in the past, prescribes this tack: “Don’t start with fear, judgment, condemnation, or guilt. ... [S]tart by connecting the dots to what is already important to both [sides], and then offer positive, beneficial, and practical solutions that we can engage in.”

That tends to run against party lines – even against how some say humans are wired.

“Motivated reasoning,” notes the journalism-trend watcher Nieman Lab, “is what social scientists call the process of deciding what evidence to accept based on the conclusion one prefers.” 

Dismissing the views of the “other” is easy. Not dismissing them can mean sacrificing a dearly held identity. “This is not just a problem for conservatives,” Nieman notes. “[L]iberals are less likely to accept expert consensus on the possibility of safe storage of nuclear waste or on the effects of concealed-carry gun laws.” 

Respect is essential. What Dr. Hayhoe says about her issue – even as some deny its existence – matters broadly. “As humans, we want to be part of a solution,” she says. “That is part of what gives us hope ... the idea that we’re actually doing something good for the world.”

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This article appeared in the February 03, 2020 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 02/03 edition