Reviewed by Palo Garcia
TALKING ACROSS THE DIVIDE
By Justin Lee
272 pp. TarcherPerigee.
We are living in an increasingly polarized world.
Technology like social media and instant messaging, at some point, was probably developed to bring people closer. Instead, it’s driving us apart, as writer-activist Justin Lee proclaims in his latest book, Talking Across the Divide: How to Communicate with People You Disagree with and Maybe Even Change the World.
Social media is rife with “echo chambers”: little bubbles that we live in where we and our peers echo similar beliefs to one another. Echo chambers, Lee argues, have existed way before the advent of social media, but it has become easier to build one around us these days. Follow the people whose views we agree with, block or unfriend anyone who holds opposing views.
This is a no-judgment zone for anyone who’s comfortable with living in a personal echo chamber, but if your goal is to influence people and actually partake in creating ripple effects of positive change in your communities, Talking Across the Divide is a great place to start.
An exercise in self-awareness
Lee’s latest book is an exercise in self-awareness. It offers plenty of opportunities to reflect on your own interactions with your personal and professional circles; often, Lee is right on the money when it comes to predicting possible outcomes of specific words and actions.
It’s best to put the book down every other section to actually ask yourself whether you’re in the habit of doing the examples he lays out. Take a moment to think of those tension-filled conversations you’ve had with family members, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances who expressed something that completely opposed your beliefs. How did you act? What did you say?
The best part of Lee’s approach to the topic is his gentle, friendly, and practical voice that does not judge misgivings, but rather, steers the reader toward a more understanding mindset.
The book’s backbone is making the case for what Lee calls “strategic dialogue”—a dirty word for many who want action instead of talking things out. The author argues that actually taking the time to prepare for a dialogue—researching, listening, and keeping emotions in check—can actually do more for an advocacy or issue than blindly pushing for results.
Working in some strategy to a dialogue also requires identifying barriers to fruitful communications. Lee takes to the task and names five: Ego Protection, Team Loyalty, Comfort, Misinformation, and Worldview Protection. He then elaborates on each one, providing not only illustrative examples but also tips on how to overcome them. In this sense, the book becomes a tactical guide to communication—providing the reader with the skills to gracefully, if not successfully, navigate potentially tense conversations and situations.
Lee also proves that he can practice what he preaches, as this book is actually strategic dialogue in print form. He convinces the reader that his advocacy is not inaction, but rather, the starting point to meaningful action. Similar to the way he instructs his reader to plan out dialogues, he plans out the whole book to lay out his points in a way that’s easy to understand, follow, and practice.
At its core, Talking Across the Divide is about empathy, which the world—both online and offline—sorely needs right now. Before you fire off your next strongly worded tweet at someone who disagrees with you, pick up this book, reflect, and come out an empathetic, effective communicator.
Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee will be available soon at Fully Booked stores. To reserve a copy in advance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]