#37 – Dick Bernard: The "Can don't" * problem….

 Continuing the “Crash Course” conversation (previous postings at May 11 and June 3, 2009).
This “thread” tends towards conversation about Climate Change.  I recommend an eight minute down-to-earth talk by 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner, Prof Richard Alley, to school children about the topic.  It is accessible at http://www.peacesites.org/educators/nobelfestival.  Click on link to Prof. Alley’s presentation.  Professor Alley, Pennsylvania State University, is part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change http://www.ipcc.ch .
Monday evening we had a visitor, a very nice woman in her 30s with two school age kids, who cares a lot about people, but whose husbands sterling job has lately become much less certain causing a change in their lifestyle, and making it necessary for her to take a job cleaning houses for others (she’s very good at it, but I don’t think her health will permit it long term.  She has a college degree and worked outside the home till the kids came along.)
She is very able and she cares.  That’s the long and short of it.
After we ate I excused myself to watch the news about the just announced General Motors bankruptcy/government takeover.  After a time she, her kindergarten daughter and my wife joined me, and they played “Sorry” nearby.
Our friend could not avoid the TV…it was close to where she sat.  It was obvious she wished the news wasn’t on.  At one point, she simply said “I can’t deal with this”, as in, “I’d rather imagine there were no problems”.  There was no controversy about it at all; no followup conversation.  After a while, as planned, she and her daughter went home.
Our visitor is probably worried about the future, but apparently hopes her worries will go away without her having to deal with the issues.
Carol, in her June 2 post, here, had described her own rural community environment and attitudes, as she perceived them.  Her comments are worth rereading.  In my case, I live in what would be described as an affluent suburb of a large metropolitan area.  I’m deeply rooted in rural midwest.  I know “country” from long experience.
In reading Carol’s post, I couldn’t find any generalizations that I would disagree with except that her description of attitudes of “rural” and “poor” could probably fit the vast majority of all of us, regardless of income, or where we live.  Similarly, George Lakoff (see the same post) is spot on in his analysis of what needs to be done.
Carol defines “community” (as it is seen by her fellow community members) somewhat more narrowly than I would, but that is what this conversation is about – talking about such issues.  I think todays citizens cannot avoid the reality that they are part of a much larger community that goes far beyond their town limit. 
I’d suggest that there is a solution not touched on by Carol that we tend to pass by.  More in a moment on that.
It is a given that the “poor” (however loosely defined**) are mostly engaged in the business of surviving, and not likely to be generally involved in movements.  Their focus is day to day.  They cannot be counted on as activists.  (Neither should they be counted out.)
On the other end, The “rich” are a minute fraction of any population, and know it, but command immense resources with which to manipulate the rest.  They are good at this manipulation, but aware of their vulnerability nonetheless.  Being at the top of the heap is of little long term value for most “successful” people in our competitive society.  Being “king of the hill” is a risky place to be…nonetheless many people are constantly seeking “the top”.
It is unlikely that a mantra of proper “framing” words could adequately counter a long established “conservative” mindset and vocabulary, simply by a concerted campaign to implant other words.  Such a campaign would be a turn-off.  Reciting some “Lakoff mantra” to our visitor last Monday would not have been helpful.  She’d likely find an excuse to avoid future visits.
At the same time, however, our visitor is very concerned about the future: will her husbands unpaid days increase?  Will his job disappear in a future layoff?  Will they even be able to stay in their expensive house with many amenities?  Will they even be able to sell the house?  Not long ago they were on top of the world, and now they’re not so sure.
A possible solution:  I think that there are, in the massive “middle” of our society, huge numbers of people who seem resistant to being pushed in a certain direction, but are nonetheless willing to listen and participate even if they say in one way or another “I can’t deal with it”.  They’re well educated, thoughtful, have access to the information and they care about what’s being left behind for future generations.  A way needs to be found to approach them.
The task for those who are well informed on the issues is to find those new ways to deliver messages of change without scaring away or turning off potential listeners.
If everyone could quietly motivate one or two others in their own circles, there would be great results.
* – About the title: As I read Carol’s comments about her rural community, I thought about my rural roots and a particular relative who had a “can do” attitude when it came to fixing some old piece of machinery that had broken down.  One way or another he’d “get ‘er done” and get the machine working again.  Politically, however, he had more of a “can don’t” attitude.  Beyond voting, which he always did, and attending lots of meetings, he felt he had no power in politics, and by his inactions proved his point.  He left his “can do” on the farm, in the machine shed….
** – I know a person who has a six figure annual income, and a financial portfolio that even today is worth well over a million dollars.  Nonetheless this person considers herself “poor”.  She doesn’t think she can afford to furnish her apartment; she rails about taxes – they encroach on her wealth (and security).  She has been told by her financial advisor that she needs “x” million in savings to have an adequate retirement, and obsesses about this number.  My prediction is that this threshold number will continue to increase, and regardless of her wealth, she’ll never reach her goal, and always consider herself to be poor.