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Talking Across the Divide summary

Justin Lee

How to Communicate with People You Disagree with and Maybe Even Change the World

4.2 (114 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee is a guide on how to have productive conversations with people who have different opinions. It provides practical tools to understand and empathize with your opponents, even in deeply divisive topics.

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    Talking Across the Divide
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    These days many of us live in an echo chamber, which leads to group polarization.

    To say that we live in polarizing times would be putting it mildly. Everyday it seems like there’s a new divisive issue for people to either passionately defend or denounce. The political climate in many parts of the world has become fraught with tension and extremism.

    Given the circumstances, there’s a good chance that you have friends or family that reside on the other side of the fence – probably on several issues. Naturally, this can make family gatherings, or even a casual email exchange, fraught with potential landmines. It begs the question, how did we get here?

    The key message here is: These days many of us live in an echo chamber, which leads to group polarization.

    It’s natural for us to gravitate toward those who share a similar worldview. But in the age of the internet, this natural tendency has become problematic. In the virtual world, it’s all too easy to unfollow or block anyone who has a different opinion than you. As a result, you can quickly end up in your own online echo chamber, surrounded by people who are all spouting the same opinions.

    Further compounding this problem are the algorithms that are crunching data at places like Google and Facebook. You may not realize it, but the results of your Google searches are automatically tailored to your location and browsing history. Likewise, what you see in your Facebook timeline is the result of algorithms that take into account your history of clicks and likes.

    In other words, Google and Facebook give you content that’s similar to what you or others in your area have already shown an interest in – thereby limiting your exposure to new or different ideas. Two people in different locations could do a Google search for “climate change proof,” and one could get links to legitimate scientific data, while the other gets steered toward sites sponsored by oil companies that aim to minimize that data.

    These online echo chambers can also explain our decline towards extremism. Research has consistently shown that when a group of people with like-minded opinions get together, those opinions tend to become more extreme. This effect is known as group polarization. And with people now congregating en masse in online echo chambers, it’s hardly surprising that over the past twenty years, people have become increasingly entrenched in more and more extreme positions.

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    What is Talking Across the Divide about?

    Talking Across the Divide (2018) offers a useful guide on how to engage in constructive dialogues with people who hold opposing ideas or beliefs. By using these tools, you can avoid unhelpful arguments and conduct meaningful conversations that allow both sides to become better informed – and perhaps even come to a common understanding.

    Best quote from Talking Across the Divide

    A single outside voice can be incredibly powerful in countering the effects of an echo chamber.

    —Justin Lee
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    Who should read Talking Across the Divide?

    • Anyone hoping to restore relationships broken over differing opinions
    • Liberal-minded people with conservative friends and family, or vice versa
    • People who would like to argue less

    About the Author

    Justin Lee has over 20 years experience in LGBT Christian advocacy, which has provided him with unique insight in how to bridge gaps between political and theological divides. He is also the executive director of Nuance Ministries, and the author of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays- vs. -Christians Debate (2012).

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