This Month’s Book Recommendation by Paula McCormack, VP
by Amanda Ripley
Simon & Schuster (April 6, 2021) 368 pages
Many of us are feeling bewildered and powerless by the extreme polarization which has gripped our nation’s citizens as political differences have intensified. We ask, “How can they THINK like that?!” as we form tribes of “reds” and “blues”, each with a sense of superiority and righteousness. This “us vs. them” mentality threatens to poison our relationships with friends, other citizens and even family members.
Amanda Ripley, award-winning investigative journalist, has taken on the subject of “high conflict” in her new book (by the same name).She clearly delineates the differences between toxic, all-consuming conflict in which losses outweigh any gains, and “good conflict”, which is healthy and necessary for change. Her primary focus is not on our current political situation, although it might have been an impetus for her. She explains the dangers of high conflict, its magnetic pull, and the difficulties in trying to extricate oneself from it. Specifically, the conflict itself takes over, becoming a quagmire within which reason dissolves into emotion, there is no room for complexity and it reduces nuance to broad categories (good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, us vs. them). Perspective is lost, and individuals meld into their “group”.
She offers expert advice on how to recognize high conflict in the world and in ourselves, and how to prevent it, by “creating a culture which is conflict resilient”. Ultimately, her book offers hope with practical solutions, some of which can be practiced by each of us individually. Good conflict is not the same thing as surrender, or even forgiveness. It maintains the dignity of all involved, while disagreeing, sometimes intensely. High conflict is destructive and demeans the other side. (It was easy for me to recognize key players, or what Ripley terms “conflict entrepreneurs”, in our current affairs, and how they exploit and inflame the situation.)
In my opinion, we Democrats have a lot of work to do to stave off the destruction of our democracy. I think that is a genuine threat, and we have to keep up the pressure to protect our rights and values. However, I would like to understand and connect more with other citizens who view things differently, if only to bring us out of this conflict, which is pitting us against each other. The essential quality in this effort is a WILLINGNESS to listen and learn. Obviously, there are many who have no such interest. But masses of people can change, and shift into more agreeable ways to disagree. This compelling book introduces the reader to the “understories” of high conflict, and some of the ways individuals and groups have moved out of it. I found it fascinating!