This Post Might Just Save Your Life!


This blog post might just save your life!
Well, not exactly. Truthfully, not even close. But you might be a little wiser
for having read it, so I hope you’ll stay with me for a moment and continue reading.
You might be wondering why I went with such a
sensationalized title. You could say it was manipulative, that I was just out
to get you to read, and you’d be right. So why is a guy who blogs about ethical
persuasion using a manipulative tactic? Simply to make this point – I’m so sick
of seeing manipulative headlines I decided to write about it. Here are some
that irritate me.
War on
– Did you know there was a battle raging this past December and
many soldiers lost their lives along with innocent civilians? This headline was
especially prevalent on Fox News over the holidays. My dad was in Viet Nam and
I’m willing to bet he and other veterans who’ve seen combat would not use the
word “war” to describe the tactics used by groups who are opposed to Christmas.
Declares War on the Citizens That Resist PPACA
– Not only are we
having to defend our lives against the Christmas rebel soldiers, we have to
battle our own President! I saw this headline on LinkedIn. Again, the use of
the word “war.” Really, the government is firing bullets and lives are being
lost because of what Obama is doing? Please!
War on

– I see this headline on Facebook a lot. I know women serve in the military and
now engage the enemy in combat but apart from that there’s no war on women.
Some people may be opposed to certain pieces of legislation but there’s no war.
Some of you are thinking this is no big deal. After
all we were taught, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never
hurt me.” I’d counter with, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” You clearly
know when you’re being physically assaulted but it’s not always so clear when
it’s a mental assault. Whether or not you’re aware, those headlines impact
people’s emotions and thinking and that’s exactly why the authors use the words
they do.
Frank Luntz wrote a book about this very
subject called Words that Work. Luntz
polls people for a living to find out which words resonate most so he can help
his clients with their messaging. As you begin to pay attention to word choice
you can quickly tell which side of the issue a presenter is on. Let’s take a
look at a couple of good examples.
Aliens vs. Undocumented Workers
– Illegal is bad because it’s breaking the
law. When we think of aliens it typically conjures up images of beings we must
defeat before they take over our planet. Together “illegal aliens” builds a
negative image and negative emotions. It leads to zealous thinking along the
lines of, “We don’t want those illegal aliens in our country!”
On the other hand “undocumented” isn’t so bad.
It makes it sound like someone lost his or her paperwork. That could happen to
anyone. Workers aren’t bad either. We need more good workers in this country
and we esteem a good work ethic. Together we have “undocumented workers” which
creates a different mental picture and softer emotions. If we can get the
proper paperwork they could help this country immensely because quite often
they’re willing to do jobs the average citizen doesn’t want to do.
But let’s be clear; in the end both sides are
talking about the very same thing. However, the word choice each uses builds
different mental images and those mental images are designed to arouse completely
different emotions. Both are trying to get us to form very different opinions
on the same issue.
Tax vs. Estate Tax
– This is another great example. No one likes to pay taxes but
there’s a spectrum on which people fall when it comes to taxes. Some would like
to pay as little as possible and damn the consequences. Others see taxes as
necessary to build a strong society and infrastructure. The real question is
what word will we use with taxes.
Death is not a good image no matter how you
present it. Very few people want to die but when they do the last thing they
want to think about is the government reaching into their casket for one last
money grab. You mean even in death we can’t escape taxation? Outrage!
When you hear the word “estate” what do you
think of? If you’re like most people you think about rich people because
they’re the only ones who can afford to live on sprawling estates. Why should
their millions, or hundreds of millions, be passed on to some greedy spoiled
kids who did nothing to build that fortune? Does the world need any more Paris
Hiltons or Kardashian girls? With that imagery many people say, “Heck yea, take
as much as you can so the rest of us don’t have to pay as much!”
Again, two sides talking about the same issue
– taxing people’s accumulated assets when they pass on – using very different
words. They want to arouse emotions and ultimately actions.
It’s not like Sgt. Joe Friday who used to say
in the television series Dragnet,
“Just the facts.” Watch Fox and MSNBC or CNN and you’ll think they’re from two
different planets despite talking about the same issues facing our country. Pay
close attention to the words used because there are many issues that impact each
of us – taxation, abortion, gun control, health care, etc. – and how we’re persuaded
to act will have to do in large part with how each side presents its case.
Brian, CMCT®
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
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