THREE BOOKS OFFERING PRAGMATIC ADVICE ON PRODUCTIVE, STRATEGIC DIALOGUE.
We need people who won’t give into our culture’s penchant for polarization. Because that polarization is killing us and the only way out …. is sitting down to talk your opponents, to listen to them, to try to understand how they see the world and why they do what they do, and to become a voice they will listen to... Justin Lee, Talking Across the Divide: How to Communicate With People You Disagree With.”
I would like to see political discussion conducted with less tribal animosity and instead with more mutual respect and reasoned deliberation. Arnold Kling, The Three Languages of Politics
….[T]here is a big problem with behaving as though politics is a sport when we are focused on winning as a political imperative. Our civic participation should be about finding the best solutions possible under the circumstances, about trying to serve everyone who shares this country. Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers, I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening).
The books linked in this post take you to smile.amazon.com. Purchasing through this link supports the work of the non-profit Enrichment Alliance of Virginia, which I manage. All of these books can be purchased through other vendors, including your local bookstore, which also needs your support.
All three of these books go beyond simply lamenting the divisions in our society. Each offers pragmatic advice on taking part in productive, strategic dialogue. While there is overlap in these books, they offer different tools for constructive conversation. All of the tools are critical, so just as I would not approach a construction project with only one type of tool, I would not try to have constructive conversations without the tools provided in all of these books.
When you talk with someone who disagrees with you on issues you care about deeply, it probably isn’t your goal to have an unproductive conversation. And yet, that may be the best outcome you can expect. Perhaps even more likely, your efforts at advocacy may be counterproductive.
The very language you use to support your points is likely to confirm your listeners’ beliefs that you espouse a wrongheaded world-view. I found The Three Languages of Politics eye-opening. Arnold Kling describes the different languages liberals, conservatives, and libertarians use, and how, because the same phrases can mean radically different things, our efforts to engage in dialogue may actually intensify polarizations. You cannot have a productive dialogue if you cannot even communicate. Expressions such as "individual rights," "oppression" and "law and order" have drastically different emotional impact depending on political affiliation. If you understand how your words resonates with your listeners, you have a chance at genuine communication.
Understanding the views of someone from a different party does not mean you need to change your own party loyalty. Kling emphasizes this in his book, as do Holland and Silvers in I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening). Hosts of the podcast, Pantsuit Politics, the authors model "grace filled conversations" in which a Democrat and a Republican "take off their team jerseys" to gain a deep understanding of often divisive topics such as welfare and the environment. The authors invite us to recognize that most issues are nuanced, and that looking at these issues only through the lens of political affiliation can blind us to solutions that address complex problems.
Holland and Silvers are two open-minded woman committed to breaking down the binary, either/or way we typically look at things. Rather than arguing, they bring their different perspectives into their discussions in order to view issues from different angles. They are much more interested in understanding each other than persuading each other. I was invigorated by their approach and am trying to stop looking at the world first as a Democrat and only second as a rational woman, eager to learn. Still, I know there will be times when my primary goal will be to change minds. And I know there will be times when I'll want to talk to people whose minds seem closed to what I have to say. For that, I need additional tools in my toolbox.
Knowing where you stand on an issue and wanting to persuade others people does not mean you don’t need to listen. Listening is every bit as central to Justin Lee’s approach as it is to Holland and Silvers. While the latter are as focused on changing their own minds as on changing one another’s minds, Lee's book is more directly about persuasion.
Lee is a gay Christian from an evangelic background. Most of his work is about bridging the gap between LGBTQ people and people who view non-heterosexual relationships as sinful. In Talking Across the Divide, he shows us how to apply the strategies he uses in his own work when we enter into conversations about other divisive topics. With ample research and fascinating studies backing him up, Lee systematically lays out barriers to changing minds, and effective strategies for addressing these barriers. I found these strategies so compelling that I took notes for regular review.
Polarization is killing us, Lee says. This is not figurative language. People are actually killing each other over political differences that are. not. insurmountable. If you are as fed up as I am with the linear, binary, us vs. them mindset that consumes our country, read all three books and apply them as you begin to engage in dialogue that is not destructive, but constructive.
In my last post, I talked about my great-aunt and her work for passage of the 19th Amendment, a centennial we celebrate this year. August is also the anniversary of the signing of The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Recent commemorations of the life of John Lewis remind us of what a very hard battle was fought.
Let's not stop fighting for voting rights now. In this post, I am sharing a few links related to voting by mail, as well as actions you can take to address pressures on the Postal Service that could undermine mail-in voting.
The Brennan Center for Justice provides a very good discussion of voting by mail as one way to protect public safety and fair elections during this pandemic.
But The Boston Globe report and Associated Press report that the efficiency of voting by mail is threatened by measures implemented under the administration of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Budget cuts and new regulations are leading to slower mail delivery. Slow enough prevent the timely receipt of ballots.
You can help by contacting your Senators and telling them to fully fund the US Postal Service and remove barriers to efficient, timely service. Call or email to get your message through quickly, but follow-up with a postcard. You'll be directly supporting the U.S. Postal Service.
And speaking of direct support, buy stamps. And share that message. It's a thing.
#VotebyMail #VoteByMail2020 #SaveThePostOffice #BUYSOMESTAMPS
In honor of her work for Women’s Suffrage, and in celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August of 1920, this month I am changing my profile picture to my beloved great-aunt and namesake, Anna Forbes Liddell. She is the beautiful, small woman waving, second from the right. No White man would rent them a car to pull their float. They borrowed a horse from a Black man.
Anna Forbes helped establish the Suffrage Movement in North Carolina, and was still fiercely fighting for women’s rights before the Florida Legislature in the 1970’s, raising her small, arthritic body out of her wheelchair to advocate for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In 2016, I dreamed I saw her at the Democratic Convention. But of course. She WAS there. As was every woman in that picture and every woman on every float in the county 100 years earlier.
Why did Anna Forbes work so hard, in the face of contempt, for the right to vote? Why did African Americans (and White Civil Rights advocates) die for the right to vote? You know the answer. Because it matters so much.
And why did some White men work so hard to stop them from voting? Same reason.
So, it’s not enough for me to honor Anna Forbes by changing my profile picture. I am dedicating this month to voter turnout and voting rights. Please join me. I will be sharing information about voter turnout and fair elections throughout the month (and beyond). You can help by sharing information, too.