Sociopolitical Knowing: Connecting with hearts, minds, guts, and groins

[Edited 8/6/16] At a time when many are celebrating the official nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton I am also acutely aware that many are not. While there are many valid concerns that have been raised, what troubles me most is to hear the contempt and disbelief that anyone could support Trump. It concerns me because it reflects a de-humanizing and de-valuing of many in the white working class.

We expect that our students and coworkers will be sensitive to the values and personal goals our patients and their families. We expect nurses to be non-judgemental towards patients who are living in poverty, suffering from addictions, or making decisions that do not seem based in upper-middle class norms and values. Can we also expect nurses to develop an understanding of how to be respectful and understand what is important to people with different political views. 

Sociopolitical Knowing is a core strength of professional nursing. Conceptualized by Jill White in 1995, sociopolitical knowing occurs on two levels:

1) the sociopolitical context of the persons (nurse and patient), and 2) the sociopolitical context of nursing as a practice profession, including both society’s understanding of nursing and nursing’s understanding of society and its politics. [emphasis added]

To start the dialogue, I am circling back to the Spiral Dynamics model that was used to organize the sociopolitical context of nursing in the published Results from the Nurse Manifest 2003 Study: Nurses’ Perspectives on Nursing.


Basics principles of leadership and motivation according to Spiral Dynamics:

  1. identify the specific needs and capacities of individuals and groups, and
  2. calibrate the precise developmental messages that fit each unique situation.

Sociopolitical knowing requires an understanding of how to connect with and motivate people where they are. It means developing an understanding of what messages will be most effective in “pushing someone’s buttons” or eliciting a strong emotional response. The table below highlights the most prevalent value memes in modern society – defined through worldview, core values, and value-based reasons for violence and war. 

spiral dynamics.JPG

How Trump connects: From sexual innuendos and vulgar speech to stoking conspiracy theories and racist viewpoints, Trump often makes his connection with people’s minds, guts, and testicles. He has effectively tapped into pent-up frustrations and fears, justifying aggression and intolerance to make America “great again” (red and orange) and “safe again” (blue and green). 

How Clinton connects: From It Takes a Village to Hard Choices, Clinton has a long history of speaking to people’s hearts, minds, and ovaries. She has effectively tapped into national pride and hope, focusing on accomplishments that make America “great right now” (red and orange) and safer through unity and tolerance (blue and green). 

Both campaigns employ messaging that is strategically targeted at different audiences. The point of this blog entry was not to start a political debate — this is not the place for that. Rather, I am hoping to start a conversation about understanding how we might apply sociopolitical knowing to strengthen our ability to communicate with others. I hope that through application of sociopolitical knowing we can better connect with different communities about the work of nursing, and issues that impact the patient populations and communities we serve.

Please help build the dialogue around sociopolitical knowing, through comments here, and conversations with your coworkers, family, and friends. 

References for further reading:

Beck, D. E. Human Capacities in the Integral Age: How Value Systems Shape Organizational Productivity, National Prosperity and Global Transformation

Charen, M. What Hillbilly Elegy Reveals About Trump and America: A harrowing portrait of the plight of the white working class. National Review, July 28, 2016.

Harryman, W. Is Hillary Clinton the First Integral Politician? Integral Options Cafe, November 6, 2005.

Jarrín, O. F. Results from the Nurse Manifest 2003 Study: Nurses’ Perspectives on Nursing. Advances in Nursing Science, 29(2), E74-E85.

Pew Research Center. Few Clinton, Trump Supporters Have Close Friends on the Other Side. August 3, 2016.

Schwartzbach, S. M. Drowned: Nurses Under Water. The Nurse Sonja. July 27, 2016.

Vance, J. D. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. 2016; HarperCollins: New York, NY. 

White, J. Patterns of knowing: review, critique, and update. ANS Adv Nurs Sci. 1995 Jun;17(4):73-86.

7 thoughts on “Sociopolitical Knowing: Connecting with hearts, minds, guts, and groins

  1. I think what most disturbs me are those who fail to perceive or choose to whitewash Hillary’s negatives.

    I get Trump. He is an avaricious, self-serving, smug, unrepentant abuser of all who he thinks are beneath him. He correctly appraises that most of the Republican base are uneducated, highly reactive, and unlikely to be influenced by science, facts, or data. So not wanting to vote for Trump is easy.

    The problem is that Hillary isn’t much better. She is a conniving, self-serving, political hack who will stop at nothing in order to win. The problem is that from a policy standpoint she has almost always been on the wrong side of the Democratic – Progressive divide. How did the poor fare in the Clinton Governor/White House years? Really badly. Loss of benefits, Workfare, erosion of safety net programs.

    How did she do as Secretary of State? Not so well. Her calculations were off dramatically. The world is neither remarkably safer, or better, for her tenure in that position. How did she do as a Senator? Again, not so well. She was more than willing to continue the assault on the safety net programs for the poor and working classes that she and Bill engineered in Arkansas as right of center Democrats.

    A really simple example should suffice as we have talked about this often. The absolute best way to fund health care in any country is with a single payer, national health insurer. There is no more efficient risk management mechanism possible. Yet Hillary has never supported this concept and if elected she will certainly not support it in the future.

    Lip service aside, Hillary is more likely to support the continued erosion of Medicare, burdening it with yet more ways to transfer insurance risks to health care providers and finding ever more innovative ways to create profit centers for non-providers. She will most certainly continue to erode the confidence any of us should have in those who are providing our health care diagnostic and treatment services while serving as our thinly veiled, wildly inefficient, health insurers.

    Not voting for either of these candidates is more appealing than voting for either of them. Both are pathological liars, hell bent on winning despite having no great regard for the consequences for the rest of us and most certainly not for society’s underclasses. The only reason to prefer Trump, not that I am suggesting it, is that he clearly believes nothing that he says. With Trump you almost certainly get better than what you see. With Clinton not so much so.


    • Thomas (Bear), the point of this post was to understand value-based political strategy and the art of persuasion and motivation used by major politicians. If I hadn’t known you for over a decade I might think you were trolling… but you have never been afraid of pushing buttons to make a point. I truly respect and admire your work on health care financing and concerns about transfer of insurance risk from big insurance companies to front-line health care providers. Without resorting to name calling and attacking, how can we leverage sociopolitical knowing to improve the health care system and lives of the patients and populations we serve?


      • I get that this is not the place to think critically about the first modern era, major party, female candidate… Far too many people who want that to happen, no matter the downside. If the candidate were Elizabeth Warren we wouldn’t be stuck in this banal dialogue.

        But, I suppose it would have been good if you didn’t use the word “Trolling” in the same paragraph you suggested: “Without resorting to name calling and attacking…”

        The issue here is not that you and I necessarily disagree about what a standard bearer for President ought to look like, it is that I don’t see where you are critically appraising Hillary Clinton. The only thing I can see that she actually has going for her is that she is the first modern era, major party, female candidate.

        But from a policy standpoint, from a track record standpoint, from an ideological standpoint she remains, at best, a right of center, Democrat. She rejected most of Bernie Sanders’ progressive agenda, begrudgingly paying lip service to it as she saw his popularity rising and her own falling. The Wikileaks revelations have already made it abundantly clear that corrupt party officials, working on behalf of HRC, sabotaged Bernie Sanders’ campaign at every juncture. Why is this history of, and dedication to corruption, not reflected in your summary of Hillary’s qualifications?

        What we have now, is a Democratic Presidential candidate who is currying favor, and avariciously collecting political support and money from left of center, centrist, and right of center Republicans because she knows it will be easier to win with Republican support than by trying to appeal to Progressives. Progressives know she is a deeply flawed candidate – they rejected her at the ballot box.

        In short, Hillary will likely be a far less Progressive President than Bill was, and we really needed a more Progressive President than Obama has been. If elected, Hillary is unlikely to champion Progressive causes because she will owe her Presidency, and any chance of re-election, to some of the most regressive political ideologues in the country. As well, as she accepts endorsements from Republicans, she bolsters the opportunities for the Republican Party to continue to control the House and Senate. Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders would have offered a clear choice in governance – not so for Hillary. Eben if Hillary were a Progressive, the election is likely to continue a severely divided government for the next 2 years, during which even a far more Progressive President would be hampered by foot dragging in Congress.

        What do we lose with Hillary? Single payer, infrastructure investment, a more peaceful foreign policy, safety net program reinvestment, a real commitment to free higher education, a stronger Medicare/Social Security system. What can we expect to lose: I can certainly see a move to privatize or further weaken the VA, Welfare/Medicare/Social Security benefits that continue to fall behind inflationary costs for basic market basket items. More people living in poverty, continued economic malaise and little change in the gap between the haves and have nots.

        Impugning the motives of people who disagree with us is inappropriate. Concentrate on the “Knowing” part of “Sociopolitical Knowing” or all you get are the myths and fables we see on CNN and MSNBC.

        I would suggest that you rethink your original presentation of Hillary to better reflect a critical appraisal, knowing appreciation of the real Hillary, As a reminder, after critically appraising Trump, you said the following about Hillary:

        “From It Takes a Village to Hard Choices, Clinton has a long history of speaking to people’s hearts and minds. Taking the high ground and long view, her campaign taps into the core values of America by tapping into pride and hope. She focuses on strengths and accomplishments that make America “great right now” (red and orange) and how national unity and tolerance are needed now for true security (blue and green).”

        So, I expect CNN and MSNBC commentators to sing the praises of Hillary, but I really don’t expect that in an informed dialogue about “Sociopolitical Knowing”. I would expect some consideration of Hillary’s pluses and minuses, not just the carefully PR’d image she has been building for decades in her relentless quest for political power. The equivalent for Trump would have been to ignore all his scandals, missteps, crude comments, business failings and simply cite the cover of “The Art of the Deal” and DT’s carefully crafted public image as factual reality rather than focus on who he really is.


  2. Tom, first, I want to apologize for using the word “trolling”. You made some valid points in relation to the less critical critique of Clinton. I understand your concern about not getting a single payer health care system under Clinton, and also that the democrats, among other things, will not allow the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [Obama Care] to be repealed. I have edited my blog entry to be more balanced. I was not/am not summarizing the candidates qualifications, but rather using their campaign strategies as an example of using sociopolitical knowledge to connect with their respective voters. Thank you for helping me improve the blog, and understand sociopolitical knowing on a deeper and different level.


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