“You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)” is a wonderfully entertaining, provocative and engaging read—and just at the right time! In the midst of primary season and a presidential election, “You’re Not as Crazy” is the antidote to the 24/7 news cycle, instant punditry and screaming headlines.
These conversations “between a Devoted Conservative and a Die-Hard Liberal” quickly drew me in, as they announced their goal as one of understanding “each other as fully as possible—hearing each other out issue by issue and questioning each other until we ‘got it.'” The authors set themselves an ambitious agenda, addressing issues of power, authority, media, business, religion, values, gender roles, sexual orientation and racial tensions. By avidly expressing their views on these contentious issues and posing tough questions designed to flesh out and genuinely understand each other’s perspectives, they have made a genuine contribution to American political life. Their spirit of passionate, yet respectful, engagement brought forth nuances and views that were illuminating and surprising. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was hearing each of them differentiating himself from others on his own side of the political spectrum—it was wonderful to get beyond the stereotypes and really get to know each of them as a distinctive individual.
I quickly found myself pulled in, wanting to ask each of them my own questions that would allow me to enter their worlds in a much deeper way. At first I almost felt jealous of their remarkable ability to engage in such honest, profound conversations, but quickly found myself trying to figure out with whom I could engage in the same way. Which is perhaps the point of their book, that more of us could benefit from leaving the “comfort zone” of those with whom we agree and sticking our necks out to connect with people who have very different ideas from our own.
Vice President, Program
Public Conversations Project
As someone who believes strongly in dialogue, I’m always looking for ways to do it better. It’s easy enough to be in dialogue with people who share a similar world view, but even for those of us who think we get it, it’s hard not to revert to debate – even diatribe – when confronted with those whose views are wildly different from ours. So it was with great interest that I began reading Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess’s book, You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong). Here were two guys, one a liberal atheist, the other a religious social conservative, engaging in dialogue on the most potentially contentious issues with a view to understanding each other, finding common ground where they could, and being willing to coexist with their differences where they couldn’t.
Having both studied and practiced different methods of dialogue, including dialogue across deep ideological divides, Phil and Jacob’s approach wasn’t entirely new to me. But the way they wrote about it was. This is the first book I’ve read that didn’t just talk about dialogue but actually engaged in dialogue, literally “walking the talk.” Reading it was like having a ringside seat at Jacob and Phil’s conversation! I could almost see them talking to each other, asking each other questions, checking their assumptions, explaining – and explaining again with more nuance – until they arrived, not necessarily at mutual agreement, but at mutual understanding. And as I followed their conversation, I found myself becoming a silent partner, noticing where I wanted to jump in with a “yes, but…” or a skeptical rebuttal, and training myself to follow their lead and listen. I mean, really listen. Which is the true essence of dialogue, after all – and the thing we find the hardest to do.
So, in a sense, You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought is as much a manual on listening as anything else. Listening with curiosity, with an open mind, with an assumption of positive intent on the part of one’s interlocutor, and with a genuine desire to learn. I can’t help thinking the world would be a much more hospitable place if we hollered less and listened more!
Some people worry that engaging in dialogue with an opponent means “making nice” and papering over differences, or worse, caving in to the other person’s point of view. But what is very evident from reading this book is that, far from blurring their differences, their dialogue actually clarified and sharpened each author’s own views, which no doubt will help them in articulating and defending those views to others. Yet at the same time, they were able to make space for each other’s point of view and go beyond their very real differences to deeper, shared concerns. By the end of the book, I thought the title could just as easily be reversed to read, “You’re Still Wrong…But You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought!” Same idea, different emphasis.
As for me: I’m going to be studying this book for a long time. For all that I consider myself a practitioner of dialogue and compassionate listener, I have strong views on all the hot topics addressed in the book, and sometimes (OK, more often than I’d like to admit) find myself hectoring others as intolerantly as the next person. So the next time I find myself gearing up for battle, I’m going to take a deep breath and channel Jacob and Phil, and instead of telling, I’ll ask; instead of arguing, I’ll explain; and instead of assuming, I’ll inquire. Hopefully with as much insight and wit as the authors of this book. It’s something to aspire to!
Outside the Lines Graphic Facilitation