Interview with Jack Meacham – Author of “Talking Sense about Politics”

TALKING SENSE ABOUT POLITICS

Jack Meacham
Quaerere Press (2017)
ISBN 9780999297605
Reviewed by Araceli Noriega for Reader Views (3/19)

Jack Meacham grew up in California. He earned degrees in psychology at Stanford University and the University of Michigan and then served in the Peace Corps in Turkey. For several decades, he was a professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo—The State University of New York (SUNY), where he was promoted to the rank of SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor. He was also elected a Fellow in the American Psychological Association in recognition of my research and writing. He served as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2003. For several years Jack has been a resource consultant for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, participating in AAC&U’s programs to strengthen undergraduate education, particularly around issues of diversity and democracy. He has been invited to lecture and conduct workshops on multiculturalism and diversity, student-centered pedagogy, and assessment of student learning at national conferences and on many college and university campuses.

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Hello, Jack and welcome to Reader Views!  What is “Talking Sense about Politics” all about?

 Washington, DC politics is in tatters. If we accept gridlock as the new norm, we should feel frightened. American citizens are increasingly frustrated, angry, and helpless about the polarization between Democrats and Republicans. It obstructs effective discussion and thwarts workable solutions for critical issues facing American society. We must solve this problem, and it must be solved soon. Democracy is at stake.

“Talking Sense about Politics”urges ordinary citizens and leaders to recognize four points of view, not two partisan stances, on issues in American society. The Loyal, Tactful, Detached, and Caring perspectives, grounded in assumptions about people’s identities and intentions, provide a useful tool for replacing the misleading and tired dichotomies of left versus right or liberal versus conservative.

I apply these four perspectives to seemingly intractable problems including minority and women’s rights, immigration, cheating in sports, religious freedom, bullying, inequality, foreign-policy, climate change, homelessness, freedom of speech, gun control, and more.

Rather than accept that polarization and gridlock are here to stay, “Talking Sense about Politics” encourages citizens, voters, and the media to think outside the box: broadly, creatively, and effectively about the most important issues facing American society. In my last chapter, I include seven, specific step-by-step suggestions for how to have a constructive conversation with anyone holding divergent ideas and beliefs. These seven suggestions promise to end the polarization war and restore respect and tolerance for all Americans.

“Talking Sense about Politics”stands out among other books on political polarization in American society. Rather than accept that it is here to stay, or suggest idealistic and impractical changes in American political institutions, my book focuses on changing how individual citizens and voters and the media think and communicate. Rather than attempting to explain polarization in terms of personalities or types of people, I focus on communication and dialogues. How people talk with each other is more important than who they are.

What inspired you to write this book?

“Talking Sense about Politics”is the culmination of three decades of teaching and scholarship.

At the University at Buffalo, I served as Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education while the university was engaged in revising its general education program, including integration of diversity and multiculturalism into the curriculum. I worked together with other faculty to design and teach American Pluralism, a required course that introduced students to issues of race, gender, ethnicity, social class, and religious sectarianism. This innovative course quickly became a model emulated on campuses nationwide. My engagement with students and diversity was recognized by an invitation to assemble and edit a special issue of American Behavioral Scientist on multiculturalism and diversity in higher education.

The extreme and angry polarization in America on many issues, the abysmal level of public and media discourse, and the paralysis and inability of our government to solve pressing problems make issues of diversity and democracy more relevant and urgent than ever. I began addressing these concerns in the 1990s with articles and chapters including “The interpersonal basis of everyday problem-solving,” “Conflict and cooperation in adulthood: A role for both?” and “Conflict in multiculturalism classes: Too much heat or too little?” In “Talking Sense about Politics”I now present an integrated conceptual framework that provides insights into a broad range of critical issues facing American society.

What is your take on the current political environment in the U.S.?

There is increasing concern about the consequences of polarization for the future of the United States. Nicholas Kristof recently wrote, “Let’s face it. The American political system is broken”because “politicians have figured out what works for their own careers: playing to their base, denouncing the other side, and blocking rivals for getting credit for anything.” Polarization threatens the foundation of credible, commonly held information required for American politics.

Commenting on “the feeling of many Americans that our politics are totally stuck,” Thomas Friedman has written, “The nonstop fighting between our two political parties has left many Americans feeling like the children of two permanently divorcing parents. The country is starved to see its two major parties do hard things together again.” Jill Lepore, writing in The New Yorker on extremist voices in the media and on the internet, notes that “What’s really going on could be anything from party realignment to the unraveling of the Republic.”

At the close of 2015, The New York Times asked its readers what they felt was the greatest challenge facing the United States. Polarization ranked among the top five challenges.

This climate of angry polarization is dangerous. It undermines the open exchange of ideas and respectful discussion and debate among family members, neighbors, coworkers, and citizens that is essential for America to function and endure as a democratic society. Political polarization and its consequences were driving themes and forces for the candidates, the media, and the voters in the 2016 presidential campaign and the 2018 midterm elections.

It’s incomprehensible how divided we have become as a nation. Why has this happened and how is it even possible?

The two major political parties now focus on message wars and symbolic votes; for example, on guns and climate change, while failing to enact legislation critical for the country’s future. Image and branding have become more important than facts, loyalty to party more important than to country. Issues that should be nonpartisan such as education, climate change, and infrastructure are now partisan. The continual bickering and inability of Congress to act has eroded the American public’s respect for Congress and, more generally, has led Americans to have less trust in government and democratic political processes.

But there are more than two sides dividing us and “Talking Sense about Politics” presents possible viewpoints of people from every possible background. How did you maintain neutrality throughout?

I was very pleased when a reviewer wrote (on Amazon), “By the time I finished his book, I didn’t know what Meacham believed politically, I don’t know who he voted for in the last election, or how he feels about any number of hot-button issues.”

How was I able to do this as a writer? This may reflect my philosophy as a teacher, which is not to expect students to agree with my own perspective. Instead, I ask that students become familiar with and try to understand both or all sides of an issue. For example, when we have structured debates in the classroom, students must be prepared when called on to argue either for or against the affirmative resolution. Of course, this means that as a teacher I have to be fully prepared on both or all sides and, if possible, not let the students know which side I personally support.

I have worked hard to adopt a writing style that is non-academic. No prior knowledge of history or political theory or philosophy is required for readers to understand and benefit from my book. There are no theories, no numbers or graphs, and no jargon or technical vocabulary. I encourage readers to think about issues and discuss the four perspectives with family and friends.

And I tried to incorporate a lot of familiar examples such as You’ve Got Mail (Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks), bullying, how air conditioning temperatures affect men and women differently, Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, and many more.

What is the primary realization you hope readers take away from reading, “Talking Sense about Politics?”

People hold not two but four different and overlapping perspectives on critical issues in American society: the Loyal perspective, competing and being in charge; the Tactful perspective, getting along with others; the Detached perspective, disengaged and working things out by oneself; and the Caring perspective, cooperating with and looking out for others.

Why does recognizing more than two perspectives matter? If we believe there are only two positions–left and right, liberal and conservative–we are tempted to ignore the complexities of issues facing America and crush everything that differs from our party affiliation. Two camps leave out a lot of Americans who feel their views aren’t represented by either of the dominant positions. Feeling left out, they drop out of civic discourse, lose trust in government, and stop voting. Recognizing that in reality four American perspectives better represent our personal and political views will encourage and challenge citizens and voters and the media to think broadly, creatively, and effectively about the urgent problems facing American society.

How does your book equip readers in the ability to engage in conversations with people of opposing viewpoints?

Rather than accept that polarization and gridlock are here to stay, “Talking Sense about Politics”encourages citizens, voters, and the media to think outside the box: broadly, creatively, and effectively about the most important issues facing American society. In my last chapter, I include seven, specific step-by-step suggestions for how to have a constructive conversation with anyone holding divergent ideas and beliefs. These seven suggestions promise to end the polarization war and restore respect and tolerance for all Americans.

Readers will be challenged and empowered by the framework of Loyal, Tactful, Detached, and Caring perspectives instead of liberal versus conservative, right versus left. They will better understand the nuances of their own positions on important matters in American society and make more coherent and convincing presentations in conversations with others. Readers will also find that the 16 dialogues based on the perspectives provide useful tools for listening more carefully and respecting what others have to say and contribute on the issues that they had not themselves thought of.

Our conversations about the issues facing American society should become less often occasions for anger, blame, defensiveness, or tuning out. Ideally, they will become more often opportunities for spirited engagement and joy in discovering both what others have to contribute that we had not thought of and also the great breadth of what we as Americans do believe and value in common and our shared hopes for America’s future.

Can you give us an example?

The support of Everett Dirksen, the Republican senator from Illinois, was instrumental in passing Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1984.

The friendship in the 1980s between Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill enabled passage of the Social Security Amendments of 1983 and the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Both Reagan and O’Neill were highly partisan leaders of opposing political parties, yet they were also good friends who were able to discuss the day’s political events and share stories.

Tact and moderation are reflected in the 1993 agreement by war hero and Republican Senator John McCain and antiwar activist and Democratic Senator John Kerry that no Americans remained in Vietnamese prisons, opening the way to diplomatic recognition and a true ending of the war.

Another example is the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the result of extensive discussion and compromises between Republican Representative Paul Ryan of Minnesota and Democratic Senator Patty Murray from Washington.

What is the biggest thing that people think they know about politics, that isn’t so?

People hold not two but four different and overlapping perspectives on critical issues in American society—Loyal, Tactful, Detached, and Caring. People falsely believe that there are only two positions—left and right, liberal and conservative. Two camps leave out a lot of Americans who feel their views aren’t represented by either of the dominant positions.

What is the most important thing that people don’t know about politics, that they need to know?

People hold not two but four different and overlapping perspectives on critical issues in American society—Loyal, Tactful, Detached, and Caring. Detached voters—also described as independent voters and swing voters—now represent between a third and a half of the American electorate—more than either Republicans or Democrats—and so cannot be ignored. In “Talking Sense about Politics” Iinclude a chapter on how to win elections with Detached voters.

What kind of response to “Talking Sense about Politics” have you received from readers?

Generally positive, lots of good reviews on Amazon.

What was the most difficult part writing “Talking Sense about Politics?”

I don’t follow professional sports closely. So, it was a challenge to write in an engaging and even-handed manner about cheating in sports versus good sportsmanship (dialogue 2, pages 67 to 71). I was pleased when a friend who is a sports nut said that I hit a home run in this brief section.

How can people remain long-term friends when differences emerge in their power and prestige? This can be a difficult situation and unfortunately friendships sometimes fail. So, writing about this and coming up with convincing examples (such as Bert and Ernie) was also very difficult. The answers include listening carefully to each other, demonstrating respect for the other’s standpoint, redefining the situation to emphasize their independent relationship, and much more (dialogue 16, pages 170 to 176). In the end, I think this is one of the best brief sections in the book and the only section that I really want my children to read, think about, and remember.

Our reviewer said “Talking Sense about Politics” is a necessary conversation guide for every American citizen. Are you doing any speaking engagements, book signings, etc., to get the word out about your book?

I’m available but not actively seeking at present.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

Jonathan Zimmerman, writing in The Atlantic in 2016, identifies as the most urgent problem in American civic life our inability to communicate with people who do not share our opinions. He argues that our schools aren’t doing enough to teach young people how to engage civilly with other Americans over divisive issues.

Adoption of “Talking Sense about Politics”as a college textbook is reasonable for lower level courses in political science and sociology. The reviews of 20 current issues make this book useful as a source book in English writing courses and in college debate courses. The 16 model dialogues introduced in chapter 4 and illustrated in chapters 5 through 8 can be a useful classroom tool for teachers and students. Some high school teachers and advanced students might also find my book to be a useful resource.

So, tell us more about you. What do you like to read?

Currently, I can’t read enough of Julian Barnes, the British fiction writer, e.g., “The Sense of an Ending (Booker Prize),” “The Lemon Table,” “The Only Story,” and several others.

Which authors have inspired your own writing journey?

Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, Jean Piaget, Orhan Pamuk, Jurgen Habermas, Annie Dillard.

Tell us about your publishing experience.

I’m the author of over 100 professional book chapters and journal articles. I served for a decade as editor of the journal Human Development (Basel, Switzerland, Karger Publishers), focused on theory in developmental psychology, and also for more than a decade on the Editorial Advisory Board of AAC&U’s flagship journal Liberal Education.                             

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received – about writing or about life in general?

First thing in the morning, before doing anything else, write as much as you can.

Thank you for joining us today at Reader Views and sharing the message about “Talking Sense about Politics: How to Overcome Political Polarization in Your Next Conversation”

Thank you.

“Talking Sense about Politics” is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and other online sources. For more information or to connect with Jack Meacham, email mailto:meacham@buffalo.edu.

 Read the review of Talking Sense about Politics
 

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“Saint Badass” by Doug Carnine

SAINT BADASS

Doug Carnine, PhD
Mindful Kindness (2017)
ISBN 9780998050904
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (4/19)

“Saint Badass,” is written by Doug Carnine, PhD, a lay minister of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. His book is a collection of letters that were exchanged with several inmates from the Max Tucker Prison, from 2009 to 2016. Saint Badass refers to Roy Tester, the first inmate with whom he began writing. He also had close correspondence with Cody Griffin, John Bruno, and Roger “Tad” Price, Jr. They discussed Buddha’s teachings and how they could be applied to life within the walls of a prison. The inmates also shared a great deal of information about their own personal stories and how they ended up in prison. There was also a great deal of discussion about the inhumane treatment that some of them were receiving. 

Through their communications, Carnine encouraged Saint Badass to start making a change in the prison by practicing acts of kindness to others. This would not only impact his life, but also the lives of others around him, especially the inmates and guards. The others with whom he was writing, also took on this challenge. It had a huge impact on them because even though they were physically locked up, they discovered spiritual freedom. This enabled a change in their attitudes, even when in solitary, because this became an opportunity to escape the walls of imprisonment through meditation. Amazing changes were made, and lives of others were improved. Was perfection achieved? No, it was not, but their lives were made better. The progress was amazing, especially if you consider the hardships that these men went through during their critical formative years.

“Saint Badass,” made a huge impact on me in many ways. Personally, I tend to hold myself back from fully engaging in mindfulness and meditation because I let my busy life get in my way. These men could easily have let their circumstances hold them back. Instead they learned that the practice allowed them to better themselves and even bring joy into their world. This was a big wake up call for me. I really have no excuse. My career choice also involves helping others. There have been a lot of formerly incarcerated individuals placed in my path. Learning about the experiences of these men has given me greater insight into what the experiences of my students has been like. I think the knowledge gained here will enable me to be of greater service to them. I also need to focus on getting back on my spiritual path.

As I read this book, the word kindfulness, kept popping into my head. I know it isn’t a real word, but it seems to fit in terms of combining mindfulness with acts of kindness, which were done by these men! I am going to pass this title on to a prison guard in hopes that he can procure it for the inmates at his prison. I think that “Saint Badass” by Doug Carnine will be enjoyed by all readers who have an interest in Buddhist philosophy, meditation and mindfulness. I would also recommend that people who are involved in working with inmates or former inmates read it.

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“Burning Timber” by Baynns M. Finnleigh

BURNING TIMBER

Baynns M. Finnleigh
Bilmarlin Book Group (2017)
ISBN 9780999228708
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (4/19)

“Burning Timber” is the first book in the Timberton Lake Series by Baynns M. Finnleigh.

Madison Pike is living a good life as attorney in New York City. She thought she left secrets from her past behind her when she left her rural hometown for the big city. Reality comes crashing down on her when she gets a call from a detective who was involved with a murder case involving her twin sister that occurred when they were teens. Her sister’s body has been found and they want Madison to come home. Blaming herself for her sister’s death, Madison left town right after her sister disappeared. She left her high school sweetheart Jordan behind as well, and never fully got over him, even though she got engaged to a high-powered attorney. Madison goes home to confront her past, and shortly after arriving, she realizes that she and Jordan have a lot of unfinished business. She also discovers that a lot of secrets were buried when her sister died. Some of these secrets are very dangerous, and Jordan and Madison work together to try to find the answers to what really happened without getting killed.

Debut author Baynns Finnleigh did a great job of developing a romantic suspense with a lot of surprising twists in the plot. She created protagonists who are ambitious, extremely attractive, intelligent, sexy and a bit self-absorbed. The sexual tension created between different characters is very well described and the sex scenes are extremely erotic.  While the story ended a bit abruptly, I felt that the most important part was finished. The author left an opening for the next novel in the series, to begin. I really enjoyed this novel and I look forward to the forthcoming sequel. I think that fans of romantic suspense with strong sexual elements will really enjoy reading “Burning Timber.” It would also make an excellent selection for women’s readers groups. The members will have a lot of fun talking about this one, especially because of the sybaritic elements in the story. 

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“Unf#ck Your Adulting” by Faith G. Harper

UNF#CK YOUR ADULTING

Faith G. Harper
Microcosm Publishing (2018)
ISBN 9781621067290
Reviewed by Valicia France for Reader Views (4/19)

“Unf#ck Your Adulting” by Faith G. Harper is literally a breath of fresh air for adults of all ages. Dr. Harper’s goal is to teach you the core principles of being a well-adjusted adult. The best part is that each tip is practically a mini counseling session. But don’t underestimate each ‘session’—although they are bite-sized, they sure do pack a punch.

There are over 30 tips on ‘adulting.’ These tips cover topics ranging from self-care and personal relationships to activism and professional ambitions. Rather than focusing on traditional adulting concepts such as paying bills and scheduling maintenance, Dr. Harper focuses on the social and emotional aspects of adulting. It is that focus that makes this book very appealing as these aspects are often taken for granted and learning them through trials and tribulation often treated as simply a rite of passage.

Every tip that Dr. Harper provides is a lesson that has been hard won by me at some stage in my adult life. And when I mean, hard won, place emphasis on the “hard”. For example, I learned the “Give Yourself Permission” tip after being a literal bucket of anxiety for a few years about an important educational milestone. I learned how to “Invest in Small Comforts” without guilt only within the last two years (I’m in my 30s!). I even gained a whole new perspective on “Being Open to Repairing Relationships…”; this is a difficult topic for me but reading Dr. Harper’s perspective has me reconsidering my typical death-to-deserters approach.

I am giving this book a 5-star rating for its witty yet profound writing on heavy topics; an accurate and almost complete capture of core soft skills essential to being a healthy, happy, and balanced adult; and its appropriate and realistic use of curse words. You may laugh at the last choice but how often have we read books littered with awkward and unauthentic uses of expletives. Dr. Harper’s use here completely emulates how you may swear when having a deep private conversation with very close friends, or in your secret thoughts about a very emotional topic. In fact, reading this book really does feels like sharing real, uncensored thoughts with a good friend.

I highly recommend this book and do think it will be enjoyed by young and mature adults alike; but this is the type of book that I would have truly appreciated coming into adulthood, prior to learning those hard lessons. I will be keeping this as a one-stop quick guide when faced with less than great situations. Also, this book will especially appeal to those who enjoy witty writing to lighten deep topics. However, I would not recommend it for individuals who are averse to any type of cursing. Overall, I highly recommend “Unf#ck Your Adulting” by Faith G. Harper as a reflective yet enjoyable read.

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“Inspirational Musings, Insights Through Healing” by Barbara Sinor

INSPIRATIONAL MUSINGS: INSIGHTS THROUGH HEALING

Barbara Sinor, PhD
Loving Healing Press (2018)
ISBN 9781615994052
Reviewed by Susan Violante for Reader Views

The moment I picked up and read the back cover, I knew I needed to read “Inspirational Musings, Insights Through Healing” by Barbara Sinor. Not many know this, but I spent 2018 in a wheelchair due to a foot surgery gone wrong. I am still recuperating, as it is not totally healed, and I still need my cane to walk distances farther than just few steps. I wished that I’d found this book in the early stages of my surgery, but late is always better than never!

“Inspirational Musings” begins with a recounting of the author’s own experience with a fall that fractured her hip, the resulting surgery, and long recuperation. Ms. Sinor was definitely wiser than me, as she used her tragedy to look within and embark on a self-discovery adventure which helped her grow as she healed. She now shares her insights from her journey in this book.

Barbara Sinor presents readers with a tiny book loaded with inspirational quotes and obtained wisdom. Each vignette is composed of a small quote followed with her own reflection as it applied to her experience and healing. I suggest the audience read the quote first, followed by the author’s reflection, and then go back to the quote. I found that by going back to the quote I experienced an expanded wisdom, as Sinor’s input in many occasions revealed an angle I didn’t perceive on my first read of the quote. “Inspirational Musings” is very well written and easy to read. It is compact enough to carry around and re-visit any time there is a need to look inward. I also found it to be an awesome guide for journaling, thanks to the abundant supply of inspirational and healing messages geared to help people living through difficult times as they overcome physical and emotional wounds. Needless to say, it is also a read for all who want to embark on an inward journey.

Overall, I am grateful that I picked up “Inspirational Musings: Insights Through Healing” by Barbara Sinor and recommend it as a five-star guide for all who are trying to heal and all who need inspiration to meditate and journal for self-growth. I am keeping this one close to me to re-visit as I journal my own healing journey. 

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“The Magdalene Malediction” by F. Scott Kimmich

THE MAGDALENE MALEDICTION

F. Scott Kimmich
Dog Ear Publishing (2019)
ISBN 9781457560569
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (04/19)

“The Magdalene Malediction” is the final book in the Ordeal by Fire trilogy by F. Scott Kimmich.  Historical fiction at its finest, Kimmich takes readers on a treacherous journey at the end of the Albigensian (Cathar) Crusade.  Though the crusade is said to have ended with the capture of the Chateau Montsegur in the mid-13th century, so-called heretics were still being hunted and burned at the stake for quite some time after the conquest. It is at Montsegur, where this story begins.

The story follows four friends – cousins Odon and Rainier, Miranda, and Robin (the son of Robin Hood) as they escape Montsegur.  As the foursome set out for Provence, they carry with them ancient scrolls entrusted to Odon by his grandfather. The scrolls indicate Miranda is actually a descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This secret poses a threat to the Church and if ever unearthed, would spell certain death for the friends. As Magdalene herself is said to have put a curse on the scrolls, the friends have a heavy burden to abide. When their ship heading toward Provence is captured by pirates, the group ends up in Spain. Here they find their challenges are just beginning; Miranda falls for the Muslim wazir, Al Azraq but is dismayed when she learns the truth about him, and they all get caught up in the political aspirations of Jacme I, King of Aragon. Drawn into a battle for their very lives as conflict arises between the Moors and the crusaders, one has to wonder, could there be something to this malediction?

Wow. Eloquence aside, wow is the first word that pops in my head when I finish a book that I find incomparable. The writing is outstanding, Kimmich persuasively pulling me into the pages of another world. From steamy romance scenes to veritable blood baths, to breathless suspense and trepidation, this author has a way with words that paints complete pictures during the entire reading experience.

The characters brought this story to life for me and I was completely invested in each of the four friends. The companionship between them felt genuine and the banter and language authentic to the time period.  My heart went out to Rainier as he suffered unrequited love.  I cheered when Miranda finally realized her true affection toward someone who had been there for her all along.  I grieved with Odon over love lost, and Robin – well as the son of Robin Hood, what’s not to love!

Starting with the final book in the trilogy I was, admittedly, late to the party. But I found “The Magdalene Malediction” easy to follow with the references presented by the author, and the story was so intriguing, that I soon forgot there were prior novels. That said, I realized after putting the book down that, curiosity piqued, I wanted to learn more about the characters and storylines leading up to this third volume.

This is one of those stories that did not end the way I wanted it to. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming, but my total immersion into this world blinded me from the possible outcomes. I highly recommend “The Magdalene Malediction” by F. Scott Kimmich.  It is one of the best historical fiction novels I have read in some time and I am adding the first two books in the Ordeal by Fire trilogy to my reading list. Fantastic story – well done.

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“Talking Sense about Politics: How to Overcome Political Polarization in your next Conversation” by Jack Meacham

TALKING SENSE ABOUT POLITICS

Jack Meacham
Quaerere Press (2017)
ISBN 9780999297605
Reviewed by Araceli Noriega for Reader Views (3/19)

In “Talking Sense about Politics: How to Overcome Political Polarization in your next Conversation” Jack Meacham writes about the current political climate in the U.S. in terms of how Americans are engaged—and disengaged—in that discourse. Mr. Meacham sets out to dispel the concept that a political dichotomy is the only way to view politics in the country. He proposes that there are in fact four perspectives from which Americans view politics. It is the author’s hope that with this book, readers will make more coherent presentations about their perspectives on political issues in conversation.

The author does a commendable job of presenting the possible viewpoints of people from every possible background. It is clear that he has considered the ideas from every angle from a neutral position. As a result, readers will see that there are in fact more than two political positions in the American political landscape. Readers will also come to understand the way in which these many different viewpoints are formed. That being said, it may be difficult to apply this information after reading the book without a little bit of practice. The reason for this is that the description of people’s viewpoints is an advanced assessment of the way in which values shape behaviors.

Mr. Meacham is an admirable writer as seen in the detailed and comprehensive explanations throughout the book. He writes with the mastery of an accomplished essayist. He is honest, fair, and consistent in his text. Here Mr. Meacham shows how something so subtle can have a real impact and how that happens in one’s mindset. 

“Strong Loyal can rationalize its domination and perhaps the eventual destruction of Weak Loyal by emphasizing differences, rather than commonalities, between the two groups; that is, by building on the assumption of intrinsically defined identity. Using stereotyping and derogatory descriptions, for example, claiming that mom-a-pop bookstores are dying, can heighten the psychological impact of minor differences.”

Readers of Mr. Meacham’s book will need to have some basic knowledge of American politics in order to engage in the book. They will also need to be aware of or at least agree with the fact that the country is polarized when it comes to political conversations. Lastly, readers will find this book to be a sophisticated read in terms of the depth of information covered and the language used to describe most concepts.  

 In terms of political debates in real life, this book definitely struck a chord with me. It seems that on all platforms, be they social media or the dinner table, the level of political polarization is at its highest in many decades. I think that what Mr. Meacham has done is very helpful and audiences will greatly benefit from reading and implementing what they’ve learned. Even when addressing the most fragile subjects, the author is able to keep the text honest and productive:

 “These differences in how we communicate reflect differences in power and privilege. Some of the differences are positive; that is, some people have more experience, expertise, and understanding than others. Sometimes the differences can be harmful, when those with power and privilege stop listening and try to impose their views on others.”

I think Mr. Meacham’s book should be required reading for political science majors. We truly are a divided country with very few people willing to see issues from positions other than the ones they are familiar with. With a guide like this one, we can come to appreciate the way in which other people form their perspectives—without judging that process. Although it can be a complicated read for some, I believe this book is a vital tool for progress for all.

Jack Meacham’s “Talking Sense about Politics: How to Overcome Political Polarization in your next Conversation” proves to be a necessary conversation guide for every American citizen. Whether one is having dinner with family or engaged in small talk at work, the concepts presented in his book will undoubtedly apply. In a world where individual fame and recognition are valued over collectivist success, this book is a refreshing ray of hope that we can all still come together as a nation, or family, and agree on how to have peaceful rhetoric together.

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