Persuade, Don’t Preach: Restoring Civility Across the Political Divide

By Karen Tibbals. Ethical Frames LLC, 2020. 199 pages. $12.99/paperback; $7.99/eBook.

Persuade, Don’t Preach offers a fresh look at the United States’ polarized political landscape by examining the ethical frameworks within which liberals and conservatives operate. Friend Karen Tibbals then helps us find our personal biases, so that we can see where our ethical issues overlap with those on “the other side,” in order to start communicating from there.

At first, the presentation seems a bit cerebral, but Tibbals’s delightful sense of humor kept us reading to discover a thoughtful, multilayered group of concepts and variables in which we could find the foundations for our points of view, and how others’ life experiences might lead them, quite understandably, to different opinions.

Tibbals sets out five ethical zones. These are emotionally laden: (1) Belonging and Community; (2) Authority and Leadership; (3) Sacredness, Purity, and Disgust; (4) Fairness and Merit; and (5) Care/Harm. These five are tempered by the sixth zone: Rationality and Reason.

The first thing we must jettison is the idea that we are rational. None of us is. We are not naked but clothed with culture and family traditions, and carrying the baggage of past experiences. Some of us fear more; some trust more.

In part 2, Tibbals gives us examples of the interplay of the six ethical zones. In part 3, she gives concrete examples of how to “frame” issues to gather greater support by appealing to different ethical zones. Here is an example of applying this framing concept: I wear a face mask because . . .

  1. that’s what we do in our community (belonging)
  2. Dr. Fauci says it’s needed (authority)
  3. I want to avoid getting infected (purity)
  4. it creates a more level playing field (fairness)
  5. I want to protect others (care/harm)

If we want to encourage others to wear a face mask, we should use the reasons that appeal to their dominant ethical zones.

As we read the book, we wondered why there was no mention of the significant work in this area that Bonnie Tinker and Cecil Prescod did (prior to Bonnie’s death) in their Opening Hearts and Minds workshops during the 2009 Friends General Conference Gathering. We recently had the pleasure of participating in a workshop led by Karen Tibbals for our monthly meeting. An excellent follow-up to her book, the sessions included material from Opening Hearts and Minds, which she had not seen before Persuade, Don’t Preach went to press.

We highly recommend the book, the discussion guide (groups can contact the author for a free copy), and the workshop. We expect to see additional work from Tibbals in this field. For more tools and resources, check out her website (, and subscribe to her newsletter (, which shares stories of how political polarization affects our everyday relationships.

Tom and Sandy Farley are members of Palo Alto (Calif.) Meeting, storytellers, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitators, volunteer booksellers with EarthLight, and coauthors of the Earthcare for Children curriculum.

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