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Sharing Our Progressive Family Values with the World

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General Assembly 2005 Event 4024

Speakers: Dr. George Lakoff, Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr, Helio Fred Garcia, Rev. Meg Riley

Rev. Meg Riley, Director, Advocacy & Witness, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), introduced the speakers starting with Dr. George Lakoff, author of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, as the guest of her dreams. Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive science, is one of the founders of the Rockridge Institute, one of the few progressive think tanks in the US.

Lakoff said that he did not know what conservatives thought when he heard Dan Quayle's convention speech and later read the Republican Contract on America . The words and even the sentences were understandable, but the sentences did not fit together.

What does opposition to abortion have to do with opposition to environmentalism? What does either have to do with opposition to affirmative action or gun control or the minimum wage? A model of the conservative mind ought to answer these questions, just as a model of the liberal mind ought to explain why liberals tend to have the cluster of opposing political stands.

After studying conservative and liberal communications it was clear that both used the metaphor of the nation as family—we have founding fathers and we send our sons and daughters to war, and so on.

There are two different ideal models of the family that Lakoff calls a Strict Father Family and a Nurturing Parent Family. And this metaphor maps those models of the family onto our national moral and political life. And what you get are two very, very different models of the family, and with them two very, very different models of politics.

In a Strict Father Family, roles and morality are strictly defined. The strict father distributes rewards and punishments to train children to do what is right. A Nurturing Parent family, by contrast, focuses more on the inherent goodness and uniqueness of each child. The parents create a nurturing environment in which children can develop their unique gifts and eventually find their own way in the world. Strict fathers worry about spoiling children; nurturing parents about stifling them. For those following the Strict Father model, prosperity is an index of morality. Social programs are therefore immoral because they take away incentive. The Nurturing Family, on the other hand, is into protection, safety nets and happiness.

We see the same dichotomy between the views of God held by conservative and liberal Christians. There is a significant difference between these views of God as person (father), God as infinite, God as source (of all good things), and God as the sacred Universe (pantheist).

Most of us have both models within. We live different models in parts of our lives. Partial Progressives are an example. How can you communicate with them? Find out what they care about; what you share. Then you have a basis for conversation.

The Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr, Minister, First UU Church of Austin, TX, stated that it is "no news that if you are on the left of anything, you get no respect in America." Liberals have relinquished three vocabularies to the conservatives:

  • Patriotism and nationalism
  • Religion and morality
  • Personal responsibility

Loehr says that the salvation story of the liberals is bankrupt. Liberal religion lost its center. The civil rights movement provided an unqualified morally good thing, but a common mistake has been to defining human beings as "victims" in order to feel it necessary to speak for them, and to feel virtuous for having done so. Defining someone as a "victim" demeans them by taking away their dignity, their resolve and their power.

Someone who has survived an ordeal is a survivor. And describing them as a survivor leaves their integrity intact, and leaves power with them. How we define someone shows where we want to locate the power and dignity: with them, or with us.

Helio Fred Garcia, Public Witness Advisor, UUA, and the Logos Consulting Group, spoke of the self-marginalization of the UU movement. He said that UUs reflexively want to remarginalize. John Buehrens established public witness in the UUA; a disciplined approach to increase the movement's visibility. Buehrens said "UUs believe that homophobia, not homosexuality is a sin." We need to continue the use of religious terms and symbols. We need to be religious and visible on social issues, framing our discussion in a religious voice.

Loehr pointed out that it might have been more effective to say "Decent people believe that homophobia . . ." We need to speak for all Americans, not just UUs.

"Moral Values for a Pluralistic Society" was selected as a draft Study Action Issue (SAI) because it is a force multiplier.

Some links apropos to this discussion:

Reported by Dick Merritt; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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