51qeono7rl_ss500_.thumbnail.jpgI first “met” Thom Hartmann many years ago when he launched the Desktop Publishing Forum on Compuserve and built one of the best online communities I’ve ever been a part of. Back in the days when Quark was revolutionary and we suffered the “how many fonts can I fit on one page” approach to design, Thom not only brought us together as professionals but more importantly as friends. And, as we firepups know, creating online community takes a very special touch and sensibility and an astute understanding of communications.

I’m certain most readers of the Lake know Thom as a radio host. He’s respected and enjoyed for the tone he sets and the ways he can, once again, encourage a community of listeners and insightful conversation. In Cracking the Code, Thom opens up his toolbox of communications skills – and invites us to try them out, learning new ways in our own conversations and in our activism, to build communities of understanding, dialogue, and hopefully a broader progressive consensus.

Cracking the Code: How to Win Hearts, Change Minds and Restore America’s Original Vision draws on Thom’s extensive training and practice in Neuro Linguistic Programming, years in marketing and working as a therapist, and his many years of not just talking but listening … carefully.

And given the heat of recent political discussions, it’s a particularly good time for us all to refresh our communications tool set. As bloggers and activists, we have spent the last few years working to reclaim a voice in government. Often we have focused on the need to make our outrage heard when it seems that it’s only the right wing shouts that get a place at the table. Yet outrage alone will not reshape the politics of our neighborhoods and our country – expressing what we are for as well as what we oppose is important to bringing about real change.

Thom points out that there are actually points of shared interest amongst most individual people on the right and on the left (while he rightly calls out the evil overlords like Cheney) and explores how we can begin a conversation that builds on those shared desires – good lives for our children, healthcare, decent jobs and a better future – not in surrender to the right but as an invitation for fellow citizens to work with us to "restore" that "Original Vision.”

Thom reminds us of the value of stories, the value of telling our own and of learning how to hear the stories of both the people closest to us and the wider political neighborhood. He introduces us to techniques like future casting and learning trances and helps us to recognize individual language frameworks – explaining the importance of sharing language with those we are communicating with. Motivational strategies figure in the discussion as well with Thom describing how we both move away from pain and towards pleasure – and how we can use both motivational directions to shift people’s positions and actions. And there’s much more.

I am particularly fond of the discussion of framing Iraq as occupation rather than war. Not only does Thom explain why this is essential, he describes an imagined Harry Reid – Tim Russert conversation in which he shows how this shift of frame makes an end to the occupation much more achievable politically:

Tim Russert: So Senator Reid, what do you think of the recent news from the war in Iraq?


Senator Harry Reid: Tim! Tim! Tim! The war is over! George W Bush declared victory himself, in May 2003, when our brave soldiers seized control of Iraq. That’s the definition of the end of a war, an anybody who’s ever served in the military can tell you. Unfortunately, our occupation of Iraq since the end of the war, using a small military force and a lot of Halliburton, hasn’t worked….

Rather than detail Thom’s points, I want to encourage folks to pick up a copy and read this enjoyable book. As bloggers and blog readers, we all – I suspect – find ourselves in political discussions where we somehow can’t get through to the person we’re speaking with – we lay out all the statistics, often wax wonky, and express our outrage at the powers that be – and too often our best rants do little to change the minds of the folks we talk with. Cracking the Code helps us to see a dfferent way – not “changing minds” but reaching towards dialogue and then alliance. Thom never asks us to deny our outrage – he shares it – but he shows us how to shift the way we approach that conversation. With skill – and respect – we become more able to share our dream of a bettter world – and energize others to share their stories and join in this work with us.

There’s a great CSPAN video of Thom speaking at the Strand bookstore which is a lot of fun and very informative. As Thom mentions in that speech, change always comes from the bottom up – and Cracking the Code is a gift of essential tools for us to carry as we do that work.



Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com