For the Public Benefit

Real Reason helps people ask the right questions.

The mission of Real Reason is to apply the tools of cognitive linguistics in ways that help people think and act democratically in service of the common good. Social change happens, in part, on a conceptual level: recognizing problems, understanding the possibilities for change, making sense of human motivation, and seeing the potential of cooperative problem-solving.

Conceptualizing Social Change

Any effort to create social change begins with recognizing the problem. Do people see what needs to change? Are they able to anticipate future challenges? Progress in many issue areas — from the campaign finance system, to climate change, to the diabetes pandemic — is limited by the lack of problem recognition. Working with partners, Real Reason identifies the mental shortcuts that make best use of people's natural ability to recognize patterns and problems.

Cognitive dissonance
a disconnect between what people intuitively know and feel to be right, and flawed but broadly-accepted assumptions about "how the world works"

Even when people see the problems that exist, they often experience cognitive dissonance. They know that inequality and poverty are unacceptable conditions, but are asked to believe that these things are "natural" results of market "forces." When a problem is framed as a matter of fixed conditions that are beyond people's control, passive acceptance seems to be the only option. Real Reason helps to relieve this dissonance by identifying the mental models that, instead, enable people to see what real changes are possible.

Redefining a Problem:
Causes of Poverty

Things beyond our control:
"Market forces"
"God's will"
"Genetic makeup"
"Moral fiber"


Social conditions that we have created together and that we can change together

In each stage of conceptualizing social change, there is the question of what motivates people. Triggers like fear and anger can be effective for limited objectives, but reliance on them undermines long-term efforts to build a just, adaptive, and open society. Real Reason is developing a better understanding of how people are motivated by their hopes and aspirations.

Once problems and possibilities are fully recognized, how then can solutions best be developed? In America today, the default mental models generally support go-it-alone decision making — whether in managing one's own health care and retirement plans, or negotiating for better working conditions. But Americans are capable of better. Real Reason identifies the mental models that support communities of people working together democratically. In this way, even the most complex social problems can be solved through a combined effort in which each individual plays a complementary role.

Real Reason's work on the conceptual dimensions of social change is conducted through five core activities (see Core Activities), each designed to serve the needs of partner organizations and the general public.

Better conceptual tools produce better public policy

What's wrong with
"Tolerating" Diversity

Conceiving of diversity as something to be "tolerated" obscures its true value. Diversity is commonly understood as deviation from a norm — welcomed in the form of entertainment or consumer choice, but feared when associated with competition for jobs or the expression of dissenting views.

But diversity is the norm. It is essential for envisioning alternatives to the status quo and for solving problems in a resilient society. A better mental model is needed to reveal a broader understanding of "affirmative action," and the connections between diversity and social progress.

The problem with
Supporting a "War on Terror"

National strength and security are commonly conceptualized in terms of two models: either extending one's power over another, or building a protective shell. A limited focus on military power and border control, however, narrows the scope of political imagination.

More productive models of strength and "social security" need to be identified and promoted. Strength starts with the integrity of life inside national borders: realizing the full potential of each individual and sharing prosperity. The ultimate goal is not global military dominance that is feared, but global leadership that is admired.