I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations

By Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth A. Silvers. Nelson Books, 2019. 224 pages. $24.99/hardcover; $17.99/paperback (available February 2020); $9.99/eBook.

“Here’s a riddle for you: If you hate Trump voters because you think they’re hateful, are you really combating hate?” —Sally Kohn, HuffPost, April 10, 2018

In 2015, the authors of I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) started the Pantsuit Politics podcast. Is it a show about sartorial choices signifying women and men are equal? A tip of the hat to Hillary Clinton? An assertion that women can do politics—differently? All of the above.

Sarah Stewart Holland is a Democrat; Beth Silvers is a Republican. On their podcast and in this book, they talk with rather than at each other. In other words, they prefer CrossFit to crossfire training. (The only time I cross party lines is when I’m talking to my barber. After all, he’s got that razor.)

Their book brings to mind Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (1977). The author, Robert K. Greenleaf, tried to reform businesses, universities and churches from within. He cited George Fox, John Woolman, and Rufus Jones as inspirations because they believed, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, that “every wall is a door.”

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury, is another seminal work. Don’t be fooled by the title meant for business school types. Their actually “soft” approach was revolutionary at the time (1981). It would be amusing if Fisher and Ury were married to Quakers, because many of their principles resemble those of conflict transformation, restorative justice, and finding that of God in everyone: practices that make Friends peculiar.

Holland and Silvers are Christians and not afraid to be peculiar, too. They don’t just split the political differences between them but give and take based on mutual understanding. And therein lies the difference between the other writers previously mentioned and Holland and Silvers: the latter two don’t have political or economic agendas. It might sound naïve because the divide between left and right is like a tree split by lightning.

The authors admit their advantages: middle-class WASPs whose husbands support their careers and how they raise their children. While Holland and Silvers demonstrate respect for race, class, gender, etc. as their bottom line, they don’t dwell on discrimination.

If their prescriptions for getting along seem like self-help bromides, their chapters “Take Off Your Jersey,”  “Find Your Why,” “Give Grace,” and “Get Curious” investigate such complex subjects as welfare, education, trade, abortion, sexual abuse, healthcare, and the opioid crisis.

Take welfare. Is it a matter of fairness or government interference? After much back and forth, Holland and Silvers decide a universal basic income holds up their values of empathy and choice without requiring a lot of red tape.

Each having given birth to children at home, against doctors’ advice, they agree that patients need a greater say in their healthcare. Hence, there is a need for care that’s really affordable and accessible to everyone.

As for respecting differences and finding common ground, they find these principles encapsulated in a quote of Franciscan priest and writer Richard Rohr:

Each person in the Trinity is totally autonomous and yet totally given and surrendered to the others. With the endless diversity in creation, it is clear that God is not obsessed with uniformity. God does not desire uniformity, but unity. Unity is diversity embraced by an infinitely generous love.

And they quote Frederick Buechner: “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” One of my favorite quips from the book is “In political conversations, we have to meet people where they are and assume they’ll stay there.” And the clincher is “Judas is both sinner and child of God, just as we are.”

So how many different ways do the authors demonstrate they think we’re wrong, but they’re listening? The answer can be found in chapter titles: “Embrace the Paradox,” “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable,” “Exit the Echo Chamber,” and “Keep it Nuanced.” They provide other indicators by citing exchanges with and among Pantsuit Politics’s listeners.

Holland and Silvers write clearly with an occasional witty turn of phrase. I find their collaboration to be remarkable: if I had to share authorship with someone, the result would be a literary tug of war without end. Finally, the footnotes are concise, but the book lacks an index. Oh well, we all make mistakes.

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