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Community book read builds skills to bridge divides

In an effort to bridge divides, or just make the holidays more bearable for family members with opposing political viewpoints, professor of philosophy Dona Warren organized a community book read this fall through the Critical Thinking Center at UW-Stevens Point.

The book "Beyond Your Bubble" (2020) by Tania Israel, Ph.D., suggests the actual divide between those on opposite sides of the political spectrum is smaller than the perceived divide.

"Beyond Your Bubble" is a good starting point for improving dialogue and offers "concrete advice" for controlling one's emotions, Warren said. She led one of multiple book discussions in early December, held virtually and in-person, with a mix of UW-Stevens Point students and community members.

"It's nice to be reminded of the skills. You need to build trust and understanding because you can't go deeper without that," Warren said. "I do see it as a first, necessary and often overlooked step in order to have broader conversations."

Israel gives reassurance that more agreement might be found than a reader assumes there could be on a number of issues. However, she stops short of suggesting dialogue needs to persuade someone to change their position.

Her book focuses instead on ways of engaging and using conversational skills -- skills such as active listening and reflecting -- to help build connections and empathy between people who might disagree politically.

The book was provided at no cost to community read participants, thanks to a grant from the Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation at UW-Stout.

Kathleen Stetter, a retired faculty member from UW-Oshkosh, was one of the nearly 90 signed up to participate. She said she was eager to learn strategies from the book and to engage in the virtual book discussion.

"It gave a reason to try to participate in dialogue with a friend or family member who has differing views," Stetter said. "Perhaps we can find some common ground."

Stetter said the book helped her to reflect more deeply on her own active listening. "It's conscience-raising."

The 178-page book sparked constructive conversations on misconceptions among participants. With practice, it may demonstrate we don't always have to shy away from difficult conversations.


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