Recently, I went to a talk on my college campus that dealt with arguments as part of York’s Writer in Residence series. The main purpose of the talk was to discuss framing and how it affects the human perspective. Jay Heinrichs, the writer giving the presentations and author of “How to Argue with a Cat,” talked about agreeability first and gave a few pointers on what to do to diffuse the tension in an argument and open the minds of those you’re talking to in a constructive way. Basically, how to appear non-argumentative and avoid an aggressive or defensive response from the person or persons you’re speaking to. The advice was fairly concrete, like avoiding the word “but”, nodding your head when they speak, showing interest in what they’re saying even if you disagree, asking genuine questions — probably to make sure you understand what they are saying but also to maybe uncover the root of what they believe and why– and adding to the conversations to gradually steer it towards your point of view. He called it the purr of a human. The use of cats as an analogy was cute but also helpful to think about. Cats don’t have to try hard to manipulate humans. They just purr.
He moved on to talking about rhetoric in more detail, communicating the core or heart-like nature of rhetoric to how humans communicate and then tied that into framing. Communication is simultaneously honest and deceitful because you’re trying to get a specific response from someone else while also conveying your desires to that someone. Whether it’s doing what you want them to or thinking how you want them to, you are actively altering or expanding another’s perception of reality by adding your own. Hyperbole is an example of this he used when talking about language. It literally means to “throw beyond” in Greek, and that is what the person does, they’re puffing something up. Making a mountain from a molehill as it were. Hyperbole can and often is used frequently when humans communicate especially if they are adamant or emotionally involved in the conversation. Heinrichs really wanted to emphasize framing as a rhetorical device we cannot turn off. He used an event from his life to show us examples of positive framing. Yes, positive framing, or better known from self-help texts as mind over matter.
Framing, how he described it working, was thinking about his environment differently, changing his own perspective. There was a mountain he tried to run up in as many minutes as he was years old, and by his tale, it wasn’t an easy climb. In situations where he might have otherwise hated what he was doing or given up, Heinrichs changed what he called what he was doing. For example, there was a bend around the side of the mountain where the sun was right in his eyes every time. Instead of getting upset about it, he took a moment to stop and reformed the situation with a new name. “Shining corner.” His very long story short, using this method while training on the mountain so he would not give up, he made the entire run with four minutes to spare off his fifty-eight years.
It is interesting to think of framing in this light, ironically framing framing differently. Most of the time, in political arguments especially, framing is viewed as a negative thing. Party biases, echo-chambers, detachment from reality; like the person doing the framing is lying to others in the conversation, but that’s not necessarily correct. His advice for getting around or getting at the root of an argument or the argument’s frame was also really helpful. The key to a lot of these situations seems to be listening to others. It’s interesting that listening was a major point of the TEDxYork talk the previous week. His last points about belief being as good as fact and tribalism growing into even more of a problem really hit home. I’m exhausted from shouting matches and will definitely be implementing verbal manipulation in my life. I’m going to start purring more.