Bridging the conflicts that divide us.

What to read when you disagree: Books about respect

Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House
"High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out" by Amanda Ripley, Simon & Schuster, 368 pp.; and "The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t" by Julia Galef, Portfolio, 288 pp.

Shelves of books have been written about communicating respectfully with people who hold opposing views. Among all the titles, these are a few that Monitor writers and editors found useful. We’d love to hear your suggestions. Email books@csmonitor.com.

Against Civility: The Hidden Racism in Our Obsession With Civility 

By Alex Zamalin

Why We Wrote This

How do you approach conversations with people who don’t think the way you do? Seeking common ground is a mark of respect. So too is recognizing when “civil” or superficial discourse gets in the way of seeing and dealing with society’s problems.

From a perspective he labels “civic radicalism,” Alex Zamalin builds a historical case against recurring calls for “civility.” Even before the Civil War, politicians invoked “civility” to champion social stability and condemn those fighting slavery and racism. Zamalin describes what has been a discourse of civility that has ignored the idea of mutual respect and concern for the well-being of others. Describing the project of civic radicalism, he articulates a moral justification for taking disruptive action. “Shocking and provoking people – no matter how impolite the words or actions might seem – is necessary to wake the majority of people from their moral slumber.”

– Harry Bruinius / Staff writer

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out  

By Amanda Ripley

It starts with a man on the run from the police, who are chasing him with dogs. The fugitive, a British environmentalist who destroys genetically modified crops, hides in a field and wonders how he turned from a mild-mannered man into a saboteur. Amanda Ripley, a journalist for The Atlantic, explores why it’s easy to become consumed by hate for those on the other side of political and personal divides. Ripley’s engrossing book focuses on solutions. By profiling individuals who’ve extricated themselves from gang warfare in Chicago and the civil war in Colombia, the author reveals how a shift in thought can snap the mesmeric pull of high conflict.

– Stephen Humphries / Staff writer

Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation

By David French 

“Divided We Fall” often reads like a political thriller. David French, a “Never Trump” conservative, devotes several chapters to playing out fictitious scenarios of how and why Texas or California might secede from the United States. It’s fairly believable. French hopes the union doesn’t lose any stars from its flag. He argues that embracing a tolerance for the differences of others will minimize the stress points in our polity. To get there, the author emphasizes three qualities Americans must inculcate: justice, mercy, and humility. “A healthy society urges people to reject unhealthy temptations to generalize, and instead urges that we treat our fellow citizens with a degree of grace,” writes French. 

– Stephen Humphries / Staff writer 

The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t

By Julia Galef

Julia Galef encourages readers of her book “The Scout Mindset” to adopt the kind of thinking devoid of self-deception or confirmation bias – like a scout charting a map who simply needs to know if the passage ahead is obstructed or not. Too many of us operate with a “soldier mindset,” she argues, leading to tribalism and overconfidence that has tainted so much of our public debate. When it comes to fostering respect, the book guides readers out of their “echo chambers” with practical advice. She says in dealing with disagreement, don’t lean on the person with the most extreme view of the issue but the moderate voice – in an effort to find common ground and make smarter decisions.

– Sara Miller Llana / Staff writer

Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide: Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work 

By Tania Israel

Tania Israel takes a practical approach to interpersonal dialogue in “Beyond Your Bubble.” She aims the book at individuals who want to heal specific rifts in their families, or to understand more generally what motivates others to hold the views they do. The goal is better listening, not persuading the other person. She writes that true dialogue allows people to be seen in all their humanity and complexity. Israel, a psychologist, has led communication workshops, and she speaks with authority but also humility. Even casual readers will find insights on how to improve communication with family, co-workers, neighbors, and others with whom they disagree. 

– April Austin / Staff writer

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption 

By Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson unfolds his personal narrative of being a young Black lawyer in America’s deep South along with heartbreaking stories of people unjustly condemned to death row. His humanity, and his superhuman patience with legal processes, is a current running through the book. Stevenson is not only fighting to exonerate his clients, who are largely Black and impoverished, but he’s also shining a light on unequal treatment under the law. He argues that the legal system trips up poor people, and once caught in the snare, they are far less likely to receive a fair trial than wealthier (usually white) people. He argues that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice. (Recommended by Monitor correspondent Dina Kraft)

– April Austin / Staff writer  

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