It doesn’t ALL have to stick

All of the parenting books I’ve read over the years tend to run together, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t remember (and use) snippets of the advice. I just can’t credit it properly.

For example, one tactic that works well with my youngest son, who can tend to shut down in the face of what he sees as complex instructions, is to boil those directions down to the most essential elements. A morning interaction with him can sound like this, then: “Ben, shoes.” “Ben, backpack.”

And then we have more leisurely conversation about the other things that he wants to talk about–Curious George, candy, and, somewhat inexplicably, Gerald Ford.

But the really important parts? He needs those really stripped-down.

This came to my mind when I was reading Made to Stick over the winter. The authors remind us that not all of our communication necessarily needs to stick (an impossible aspiration anyway). We will be more successful in getting our key points across–and getting them to really move people–if we don’t try to muck them up with basically extraneous information.

Essentially, if we stop trying to get every piece of information we have about a given issue to really resonate with our target audience, we can get the (relatively few) things that are truly critical across much better.

We experienced this with our advocacy around the Food Stamp rule change that affected U.S. citizen children in mixed-status families and their eligibility for food assistance (see–I can’t even describe it without beginning to lose people!).

I spent so much energy, and sucked up so much of our targets’ attention, trying to really explain it. And it’s complex. Anything that involves phrases like “pro-rata share” and “mixed-status” and (seriously) “pre-PRWORA ineligibles” is going to be killer, right?

It seemed important, somehow, that people understood how the math worked, so that they would know that the state agency’s claims that the old formula was biased in favor of immigrant households just wasn’t true. They had to understand, right, that we don’t count the immigrant parents for the purposes of determining the household size. It matters, doesn’t it, that USDA will grant states the authority to institute a cap against which to evaluate the benefit size, if they just ask for this waiver?

Not really.

It was like the heavens opening the day I said, really in frustration, “it’s just wrong, when we decide that it’s okay to treat kids differently just because we don’t approve of their parents.”

The reporter with whom I was talking got quiet for a minute.

And I knew that was it.

The core, which had been so elusive.

Because the heart of the issue wasn’t even hunger–talking about the hardship the new rules visited upon these children inevitably brought questions about whether they were really hungry or not, how we knew that, what resources were stepping up to fill the need…blah, blah, blah.

And it wasn’t even just that these children are U.S. citizens. Everybody knew that, but that alone doesn’t really tell us much about what their legitimate claims should be.

The core is that we cannot address the needs of children in this country if we treat anti-poverty policy as a referendum on parental behavior.


That’s all that has to stick.

Then, the policy solutions that must flow from that will all have to make sure that, whatever we do, children aren’t harmed as a way to prove a point about their parents.

Do whatever math you need to to make that work; that’s our endgame, and the standard by which our policy actions must be judged.

“Ben, coat.”

And we’re ready to go.

2 responses to “It doesn’t ALL have to stick

  1. Okay, I can totally relate this issue. I tend to go on about all the different facets of an issue, then find the topic going off an unimportant tangent. I find in TBW that our message is better received when we keep to 1-3 main points in an email alert.
    And I appreciated your example of speaking w/the reporter getting quiet when you found “the core” of what you wanted to say. Now if I can just find an easy way to do that often.
    Thanks for the book suggestion, sounds interesting.

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