At least once a year, an event in the speaker series at 92Y in Manhattan catches my eye. I’ve seen several of my favorite writers, including Malcom Gladwell (three times) and Michael Lewis.

This year, I saw Arthur Brooks in conversation with Simon Sinek. I have become a fan of Arthur’s occasional columns in the New York Times, and I am a big fan of Sinek’s, mostly from his extremely well-known (viewed over 44 million times) TED Talk about the way leaders inspire action.

Sinek played interviewer in the conversation with Brooks, whose was promoting his new book Love Your Enemies.

As the Amazon description explains, excerpted here…Brooks says America is being ripped apart by bitterness and contempt, fomented by public bullies and self-interested leaders. Battered by partisan rancor and caustic public discourse, America is tearing at the seams. Across the political spectrum, we are told by divisive leaders that our ideological opponents are worthless. A large majority of Americans are sick of being bullied and terrorized by the fringes, do not assent to the claim that those with whom we disagree are knaves and fools, and are sick of the political warfare that makes progress impossible. Following the plan in his book, Brooks believes we can fight back to reunite the nation around principles of respect, kindness, and dignity. The key is not bland agreement, but rather a culture of warm-heartedness toward our political foes, a vigorous—but respectful—competition of ideas, and the courage to stand up to dividers on our own side.

Some of my key takeaways from the evening:

  • Civility and tolerance are not high enough standards. If you and your spouse are civil to each other, that is not good enough. If you and your spouse tolerate each other, that is not good enough.
  • The other side is not stupid or evil; they are just people who disagree with you on public policy.
  • The mark of moral courage is standing up to people with whom you agree, about people with whom you disagree—standing up to them and saying I don’t want you to talk that way about the people with whom you disagree. That is not the mark of civility or tolerance. It’s the mark of love.
  • No one has been insulted into agreement.
  • You make peace with your enemies, not with your friends.
  • If you are not talking about controversial things, you are around too many people you agree with.
  • If you don’t show love, you won’t persuade.
  • Anger is not a problem. It is not correlated with divorce. Contempt is correlated with divorce (per marriage expert, John Gottman). Eye rolling is Gottman’s number one predictor of divorce. It shows sarcasm, dismissal, and contempt.
  • When you show love, you never say, “I wish I was more of a jerk”. When you show contempt, you will often say, “I wish I didn’t do that”.
  • Maximize the space between stimulus and response. (Which I learned long ago by reading Stephen Covey’s books.) Count to 10 before you respond, and choose your response, rather than reacting.
  • Answering contempt with contempt is for weak people. Answering contempt with warm-heartedness is for masters.
  • Motive attribution asymmetry: Each side is convinced they are motivated by love and the other side is motivated by hate. They can’t both be right. Liberals and conservatives in the USA today have the same level of motive attribution asymmetry as Israelis and Palestinians.
  • If you disagree with someone, think their ideas are bad, don’t think they are a bad person. The person you are talking to whose values you don’t share is not those values. You can have contempt for their values, and you don’t have to marry them, but it’s not okay to treat that person, or think about that person, with contempt. They are a person. A soul. Expand the space between ideas and people.
  • Changing your mind is not weak and wishy-washy.
  • Fear is the opposite of love. Show love and you won’t fear.

If you wish to hear the complete interview, Brooks posted it on his podcast. (Around the 52-minute mark, I asked a question. As with the other audience members who asked a question, it’s hard to hear my question. I asked how one cannot have contempt for the outrage industrial complex (the people in the media, and in politics who are fostering outrage and fear in order to make money, which Brooks talked about in the early part of the interview). Interestingly, I stumped Brooks. His answer was he’s working on figuring that out.

How do you act with others you disagree with? Please join the conversation with your comments…

Warm regards,

David

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