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Format: Audiobook (borrowed from library)
Content Warnings: References to homophobia and racism
We’re living in a time when it can feel like we’re on completely different planets from some of the people we encounter – from bigoted grandparents to politicians on the news. In Talking Across the Divide, Justin Lee provides practical advice on bridging this seemingly uncrossable chasm.
It’s time to have some difficult but meaningful conversations, and maybe even make the world a little better in the process.
First Page Impressions
I had some trepidations going into this book. What if ‘bridging the gap’ between people with opposing views meant treating all opinions as equally valid, including harmful ones? Wasn’t there a risk of giving people with hateful viewpoints a platform?
Fortunately, Lee immediately cleared up these concerns. He acknowledges the limits of the approach and explains that we should listen to the opposing side in a way that, rather than legitimising their prejudice, improves our own strategy for challenging these prejudices.
“It’s possible that there’s no excuse for the behavior of someone you’re talking to on the other side. Okay, then. Don’t excuse it. But it’s still important to try to understand and explain why they do what they do—what they understand to be motivating their behavior—even if you completely disagree with their rationale.”
I really admired the work of Justin Lee, which centres around bringing together the evangelical Christian and LGBTQIA+ community, both groups which he identifies with. As a result, he seemed like the ideal person to write this book, drawing on his own experiences throughout.
Final Page Reflections
Talking Across the Divide is well-structured into a step-by-step process that can easily be followed to create meaningful and change-sparking conversations. Despite the serious nature of the subject matter, Lee has a light touch and uses some amazing analogies to get his points across.
For example, to illustrate the power of storytelling, he suggests that if you wanted to make someone more sympathetic to alien visitors to Earth, you should encourage them to watch E.T. as a counterbalance to their internalised War of the Worlds narrative!
Lee provides example ‘scenarios’ throughout the book, but these often felt a bit stilted and artificial. Given his years of experience putting these strategies into practice, I would have preferred more real-life models rather than hypothetical ones.
Diversity and Representation
Lee covers multiple different types of discrimination – not just those he has been a victim of, such as homophobia, but also those which he has been complicit in and had to educate himself, including racism.
Instead of being presented as a know-it-all activist, his willingness to mess up and learn from mistakes makes his method feel more approachable.
- Social justice
- Debate vs dialogue
- Echo chambers
- Politics & partisanship
- Media/social media
Beyond the Book
I am quite a conflict-averse person and this book has allowed me to feel more equipped to challenge prejudice in a non-confrontational way.
“Each side is so focused on fighting the other that there doesn’t seem to be any room for understanding them.”
I have often prided myself on being tolerant and conflict-averse, but the difficult conversations Lee exposes himself to in his valuable work have made me wonder – is this something to be proud of? Or does it mean I regularly shy away from conversations that could have a genuine social impact?
- Do you think Lee’s strategies are easily applicable to real life? Are there any areas of your life where you think they will be useful?
- Like me, did you have trepidations about this book when you first opened it? How did your initial expectations change throughout?
- Were there elements of Talking Across the Divide that you particularly agreed or disagreed with? What most resonated with you?
“we’re allowing our legitimate points of disagreement to bleed over into caricatures, stereotypes, and demonization of the other side”
Read if: You want to equip yourself to challenge prejudice with a well-structured non-fiction book.
Buy Now on Better World Books:
If you liked Talking Across the Divide, I would recommend another empowering non-fiction read – Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.
Have you read Talking Across the Divide? Do you have any other non-fiction recommendations? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!