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When we successfully reframe public discourse, we change the way the public sees the world. We change what counts as common sense. Because language activates frames, new language is required for new frames. Thinking differently requires speaking differently.

The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. As a result, they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions. In politics our frames shape our social policies and the institutions we form to carry out policies. To change our frames is to change all of this. Reframing is social change.

You can’t see or hear frames. They are part of what we cognitive scientists call the “cognitive unconscious”—structures in our brains that we cannot consciously access, but know by their consequences. What we call “common sense” is made up of unconscious, automatic, effortless inferences that follow from our unconscious frames.

The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

Language is also a place of struggle.

Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness, bell hooks

We also know frames through language. All words are defined relative to conceptual frames. When you hear a word, its frame is activated in your brain.

Yes, in your brain. As the title of this book shows, even when you negate a frame, you activate the frame. If I tell you, “Don’t think of an elephant!,” you’ll think of an elephant.

Though I found this out first in the study of cognitive linguistics, it has begun to be confirmed by neuroscience. When a macaque monkey grasps an object, a certain group of neurons in the monkey’s ventral premotor cortex (which choreographs actions, but does not directly move the body) are activated. When the monkey is trained not to grasp the object, most of those neurons are inhibited (they turn off), but a portion of the same neurons used in grasping still turn on. That is, to actively not grasp requires thinking of what grasping would be.

Not only does negating a frame activate that frame, but the more it is activated, the stronger it gets. The moral for political discourse is clear: When you argue against someone on the other side using their language and their frames, you are activating their frames, strengthening their frames in those who hear you, and undermining your own views. For progressives, this means avoiding the use of conservative language and the frames that the language activates. It means that you should say what you believe using your language, not theirs.

The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

For me this space of radical openness is a margin a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a “safe” place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance.

Living as we did on the edge we developed a particular way of seeing reality. We looked both from the outside in and from the inside out. We focused our attention on the centre as well as on the margin. We understood both.

Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness, bell hooks

Often when the radical voice speaks about domination we are speaking to those who dominate. Their presence changes the nature and direction of our words. Language is also a place of struggle. I was just a girl coming slowly into womanhood when I read Adrienne Rich’s words “this is the oppressor’s language, yet I need it to talk to you.” This language that enabled me to attend graduate school, to write a dissertation, to speak at job interviews carries the scent of oppression. Language is also a place of struggle.

Language is also a place of struggle. We are wedded in language, have our being in words. Language is also a place of struggle. Dare I speak to oppressed and oppressor in the same voice? Dare I speak to you in a language that will move beyond the boundaries of domination — a language that will not bind you, fence you in, or hold you. Language is also a place of struggle. The oppressed struggle in language to recover ourselves, to reconcile, to reunite, to renew. Our words are not without meaning, they are an action, resistance. Language is also a place of struggle.

Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness, bell hooks

We Reframe
We reframe out of the confines of the medical model and pathology paradigm and into the respectfully connected expanse of the biopsychosocial model and the Neurodiversity paradigm. We reframe from deficit ideology to structural ideology.

We, Stimpunks

Reframe these states of being that have been labelled deficiencies or pathologies as human differences.

Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences
You think you know me?
No, you don't know me
Don't fence me in, I wanna be big
I wanna be part of everyone and everything
No fence around me
No, you can't limit me
I'm in-between, your set of rules
Don't even come close to applying to me

Bah! binaries
It's all make believe
I wanna be part of everyone and everything

--Dont' Fence Me In

The long-term well-being and empowerment of Autistics and members of other neurocognitive minority groups hinges upon our ability to create a paradigm shift – a shift from the pathology paradigm to the neurodiversity paradigm.


I used to tell my students that ideology never announces itself as ideology. It naturalizes itself like the air we breath. It doesn’t acknowledge that it is a way of looking at the word; it proceeds as if it is the only way of looking at the world. At its most effective, it renders itself unassailable: just the way things are. Not an opinion, not the result of centuries of implicit and explicit messaging, not a means of upholding a power structure. It just is.

the shame is ours

Further reading,

Published by Ryan Boren

#ActuallyAutistic retired technologist turned wannabe-sociologist. Equity literate education, respectfully connected parenting, passion-based learning, indie ed-tech, neurodiversity, social model of disability, design for real life, inclusion, open web, open source. he/they