Wow. I really liked I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers. And so far in my pandemic reading, this has been my favorite of a number of okay to great books. Like, even more than wanting to run out and build a bunker or even relax into peace in difficult times, I really want to start a supper club small group called “Discussing Politics at the Dinner Table.” This book would be the center of that group and we would tackle one chapter per week, while we actually ate dinner together. See how clever that is? Challenging the traditional advice not to discuss politics over dinner. Wink wink.
The set-up of the book is to teach a different principal about grace-filled conversation in each chapter before exploring (briefly) an area in politics where this can be applied. For example, there is a chapter about embracing paradox that includes a short discussion on abortion (from both “sides,” applying all the principals in this book but concentrating on embracing the paradox of respecting women’s decisions and valuing life. (I oversimplified it in the way I just presented it, but I bet you get the idea.)) At the end of each of these principal-then-application chapters is a couple pages of discussion topics. This would make using this book for a group ideal, but would also work to apply in your own life, deeper than just reading it.
As the subtitle—A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations—might tip you off to, the dual authors of this book are Christians. For some books, this means you really need to be a functioning member of that faith to benefit from the book. That is not the case here. Christianity is not so much crammed down anybody’s throats as yet another identity of the authors. It is occasionally referenced and also sometimes it is assumed that there are shared values and beliefs in order to “argue” a point. But I don’t think a non-Christian would have any issue getting some real value out of this book. As for Christians, well, I think that every single one of you should read this book. My husband will be reading it next (partly because I think he’ll enjoy it and appreciate it as someone who has been really ticked off about politics, and especially evangelical politics, for the last couple years) and then I’m making my teen daughter read it. This country would be a much better place if this were required reading (assuming that at least some people were open enough to embrace some of the ideas, because there are some difficult ideas here, some real life-changing, mind-blowing ideas, as simple as they often are).
The title and cover should also clue you in that the authors are on opposite ends of the political spectrum in our bipartisan country. For a little background: they met in college but went their separate ways until awhile later. Both of them had ended up in politics one way or another, one as a Democrat and the other as a Republican, and they ended up starting the Pantsuit Politics podcast and then writing this book. What they are doing is not just arguing their points, it’s much more refreshing and revolutionary. They’re refusing to argue at all, but just discuss, beginning always with shared information that can be agreed upon and always ending up at a place of grace. It’s maybe not the best-written book or most engaging book you’ll read all year, but it’s well-written enough to make it an important one, considering its content.
You can’t go at this book with guns blazing, because that’s exactly the point: we’ve got to start treating everyone like humans, respecting everyone, and stop fighting like our lives depended on our opinions, blinding ourselves to reality and humanity with our preconceived notions and all-or-nothing political camps. The chapter titles might give you some idea what you are in for (as well as the few quotes I pulled, below): We Should Talk Politics, Take Off Your Jersey, Find Your Why, Put Politics In Its Place, Give Grace, Get Curious, Embrace the Paradox, Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable, Exit the Echo Chamber, and Keep it Nuanced. There really are some great ideas here, some great moments. There are many things I already believed or felt, and also many aha moments. I don’t necessarily agree with every single thing in the book, but with a book like this it almost doesn’t matter, because they’re teaching the reader how to deal with disagreements as they go along. I could certainly see people picking up this book, being offended, and walking away mad, but that would be a pity. This is a book you should read and learn from, walk away from a different person.
I intend to.
“Ultimately, politics is really about people” (p17).
“Somewhere along the way we stopped disagreeing with each other and started hating each other. We are enemies, and our side is engaged in an existential battle for the very soul of the country” (p24).
“We have viewed data, when we have it at all, through the lens of confirmation bias” (p38).
“And I have made a really deliberate choice in my life to prioritize grace over fairness” (p43).
“Followers substitute political figures’ judgement for their own” (p51).
“But these are concerns, not values…” (p55).
“…we found that our whys were identical” (p59).
“We think it would be helpful under any health insurance system for prices to be presented to patients in writing in advance of treatments in non-emergency situations” (p63).
“However, politics is not the only or even the most significant force at play in these problems, and government—or an absence of government—cannot be the only solution” (p73).
“Imagine the transformative impact of viewing our fellow citizens as though our big, messy country wouldn’t be complete without them” (p90).
“Grace simply means that all people are valuable. It does not mean that all opinions are valid” (p94).
“…policy positions are ideas. They are important and reflective of who we are, but they are not limbs” (p101).
“…politics is not a collision of good and evil; it’s a painstaking analysis of valid, competing priorities” (p121).
“Perhaps this is the paradox that we must embrace in all areas of political and moral debate. People can be moral and ethical beings who simultaneously reach decisions we ourselves might find immoral or unethical” (p129).
“…it is the discomfort that creates healing in the body” (p144).
“Discomfort is the path to growth; pain is a sign from that body that we need to disengage” (p147).
“We can look at our own behaviors, question ourselves, and still love ourselves. For people of faith, we can remember that this is how God sees us—flawed, sometimes reckless, always beloved” (p183).