How to have curious conversations in dangerously divided times (w/ Mónica Guzmán) (Transcript)

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How to Be a Better Human
How to have curious conversations in dangerously divided times (w/ Mónica Guzmán)
November 21, 2022

[00:00:00] Chris Duffy:
You're listening to How to Be a Better Human. I'm your host, Chris Duffy. The episode of this podcast that has the very worst reviews that we've ever gotten in the two years we've been making this show is an episode that we did on how to talk to people across a political divide, and that was no fault at all of our guest. Our guest was fantastic.

The negative reviews were basically because every single one of the questions that I asked was some version of “How do I convince conservatives to realize that they're wrong and I'm right?” And look, it's certainly not lost on me that there's a hilarious irony in me trying to host an episode about communicating across a political divide and then managing to alienate every single person who is on the other side of the political divide for me, so much so that they felt compelled to give us zero stars and tell me that I am a condescending jerk, and worse, they're not wrong.

I was being a condescending jerk. So today, let's see if maybe I can do a little bit better this time. Today's guest, Mónica Guzmán, is an expert in curiosity. She's the author of the fantastic book, I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times. Here's a clip from her TEDx talk.

[00:01:13] Mónica Guzmán:
After the election in 2016, I found a foolproof way to stop conversation. I would tell groups of my fellow Seattle liberals that my parents, who I love to death and see every weekend, are not just Mexican immigrants like me. They're Mexican immigrants who voted for Donald Trump.

I would share this at networking events, random get-togethers, whenever politics came up and people started giving voice to that sense that anyone who voted for someone they think is a monster must be monsters themselves. I did this so often, it became a kind of game, not to make anyone uncomfortable, I realized, but to put my circle to the test.

I've had umpteen conversations with my parents about politics. I know their reasons, and they know mine. So after the beats of silence at these get-togethers, as people considered what they knew about the man in the White House, the rhetoric against Mexicans, and this crazy thing I just said about two Mexicans I know who voted for him, I’d wait. I'd wait to see if instead of changing the subject or walking away, if someone would turn to me and ask, “Why?”

[00:02:49] Chris Duffy:
Obviously you wanna know why. We all wanna know why, but you're gonna have to stick around until after the break to find out. We've got more with Mónica Guzmán right after this.


[00:03:05] Chris Duffy:
Okay, and we're back. We're talking about how to have better political conversations in divided times with journalist and author, Mónica Guzmán.

[00:03:13] Mónica Guzmán:
I’m Mónica Guzmán. I'm the author of, I Never Thought Of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times, and the Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels, the nation's largest cross-partisan grassroots organization dedicated to depolarizing America.

[00:03:32] Chris Duffy:
Mónica, thank you so much for being here, and maybe let's get started by talking about how you got into this work. Can you think of a particular conversation or people who you're trying to have conversations with, who inspired you to start thinking about polarization and difficult conversations?

[00:03:49] Mónica Guzmán:
The one that always comes to mind is my parents. I'm part of a politically divided family, and my parents and I are Mexican immigrants. They voted for Trump both times fairly enthusiastically, and I voted for Clinton and Biden. Even before that, we’ve just had a lifetime of dinner table conversations that have thrown out, you know, Glenn Beck quotes and all kinds of debates about whatever was going on, even back in the Clinton days.

Um, all kinds of yelling and trying to understand each other. The kind of conversation that really tipped it for me was when I was in Seattle in 2015, 2016, and 2017. As those conversations about politics got more and more tense in a very blue city, and I, what I'm hearing is a lot of people have a lot of judgments when there haven't actually been that many conversations with the people they're judging, and as a journalist who tries to help people understand each other, that just felt like, hang on, gotta pull back and figure out what's going on here.

[00:04:55] Chris Duffy:
In your book, what comes across so clearly and I think is relatable to so many people, certainly I relate to this, is this complex feeling of absolutely loving these people, caring about them so deeply, and being infuriated because it feels like you cannot understand where they're coming from. It feels like a lot of us tend to just avoid these topics instead. And I know I'm guilty of that. So what, what would your pitch be for why we should actually have these difficult conversations?

[00:05:25] Mónica Guzmán:
I think there's lots of reasons, but the one that comes to mind is we're so divided, we're blinded. When you look at the research, it shows that when people are asked to look across the divide and guess at the views on that side, we are constantly exaggerating, and this happens from both sides, and we're constantly over-vilifying. We're seeing a lot of malevolence when it isn’t quite there. We’re, we're stretching it beyond reality, and we really care about getting things right. We care about facts, we care about truth, but we're not seeing the truth of other people, and that's because of the depth and complexity and layers of polarization and toxic polarization in our society. It's the kinds of signals and, and narratives that we receive. It's the, the animosity and the high volume of these things, and it's also, I think, very importantly, how much our relationships across difference have frayed very naturally and organically, one burned bridge and one burned relationship at a time.

Every time we decide we can't talk about politics, that's one more place of friction between difference that goes away, but when we don't do it, we're seeing the world as a projection instead of what it really is. We're seeing people's perspectives as, as something they're not.

[00:06:47] Chris Duffy:
It was very interesting to me in your book, because you talk a lot about how difficult it is to maintain curiosity and how important that is because when you start to actually talk to another person, it's easy and we, I think we all, I certainly fall into this to, to want to just put them in this category, which is this idea I have in my head, which is predetermined.

And the more that we get curious about people's specific situations rather than the, like, blanket that we think maybe they should fall into or, it's harder to actually pin people down in these simple ways that make it easier to feel like we're very, very different from them.

[00:07:23] Mónica Guzmán:
Yeah, exactly. It's, I make the distinction between puzzles and mysteries, which I borrow from author Ian Leslie who did this really well. But puzzles are something that feels like you have the shape. You just need to look for the missing pieces. That's what understanding a puzzle is all about. You can solve it.

And then a mystery just doesn't work that way at all. You have no idea if you have the right shape, the right box, the right size. It's not a matter of finding pieces, it's a matter of everything you learn sort of opens up new questions.

And when we stereotype, or when we flatten, or when we become too certain about other people, we're treating people like puzzles. “Oh, I already know because they are X, Y, and Z they hold this identity and this ideology. I already know why they believe these things. You know? All I need to understand is this part, and I'm gonna come up and demand that answer from them.”

But that's not how human beings work. In fact, that's one of the most beautiful things about us is we are extraordinarily deep mysteries. So, to try to understand a mystery from a distance is sort of the tragedy of the moment. Right? Where we think, well, it's a lot more comfortable to read a thought piece with some statistics and then make some conclusions about a group of people, and we wanna do that because it is, it is so stressful to stay in some kinds of uncertainty. It's stressful not to know. We have that need for closure. We, we want certainty, but certainty is the arch-villain of curiosity, and the conclusions kill all these questions. We end up too rigid and so divided.

[00:08:52] Chris Duffy:
One of the big things in your book is you're actually not about convincing people of anything.

[00:08:57] Mónica Guzmán:
That's right.

[00:08:58] Chris Duffy:
So how do I, how do I not do that? ‘Cause I get so in the mode of “I am right” and this is morally imperative to convince people.

[00:09:04] Mónica Guzmán:
Yeah. Yeah.

[00:09:05] Chris Duffy:
So how do you get past that?

[00:09:06] Mónica Guzmán:
And that’s… right, I mean that, that's a big piece of what's going on now. Um, politics a few decades ago didn't feel quite so morally imperative. Right? It felt a little more like, oh, these are disagreements about policy and ideology and, and yes, there are some really high stakes issues here and there.

Nowadays, in part because our identities have stacked so neatly into these large two piles. There's others, right? There's people in the middles, libertarians, yes. But there's big two piles, where you can kind of predict just by people's traits where they're likely to fall on that. It's, it's made it, it's made it so much more personal. Politics is so personal, right? Where your candidate loses it, it’s not just that candidate, it's not just that race. You lose, you're losing your country.

It feels horrible, and that makes all of this so much harder. So the reason that persuasion is not something that I recommend leaning into when you're having these conversations across disagreement. It's, it's for a few things. One, it doesn't work. We, we're living at a time that's very on demand, and one of the ways that, that's infected our conversations is we tend to think, “All right, I'm gonna have this conversation with my uncle, and I expect to change his mind. Why? Well, because here's this glittering beautiful reason that I'm holding in my hand for why I believe what I believe, and it's awesome. And when I understood it, it did everything to me, and all I need to do is hand it over to him. If I just hand it to him, it will have the same impact on him.”

And then when it doesn't have the same impact on him, we're infuriated and we begin to repeat ourselves except louder and louder and louder. Right? We forget that people have these roots that go down through the years of their lives, that their opinions are not just something they put on like a shirt. It's, it's something they've kind of grown into, right? And so it's really, really hard to talk somebody out of something in the course of a conversation.

If you do influence their perspective, more than likely it will be at a moment when they feel heard by you. Where they feel connected to you, where they feel understood by you or like you're making the effort. In order for that to quote-unquote “work”, you can't be trying to change them because changing people, trying to change people is a way of saying that we don't accept them the way they are, and it's really hard to feel heard if that's what you're being confronted with.

[00:11:28] Chris Duffy:
I've also heard you say that we put so much emphasis on truth and right, journalism is this truth-finding organization or institution, but we don't, we really kinda ignore the other piece, which is trust. And we think that just by throwing enough truth at them that will change things or, or, or change things for the society. But we don't really have this emphasis on trust, which I think is really at the core of your book is how do you build trust amongst communities, even if we disagree?

[00:11:55] Mónica Guzmán:
Exactly. I, I, I always think back to a friend of mine a while ago, sent me, forwarded me this text thread that he had with an old high school friend. They were on two political sides. And, and he's like, “Mónica, like I, I tried so hard. Why did nothing get across here? What's going on?” And I looked at the thread and all they were doing was sending articles to each other. One of them would send the other, “Here's, here's the thing from the Blaze. Just read this.” “Here's the thing from the New York Times, just read this.”

And they're sending each other information, but from sources that the other doesn’t trust. As if it's homework, as if, “Read that article and then you're qualified to talk to me again. Read that article and then I'll believe that you're worth listening to.” Right?

So I'll borrow a, a framework from a friend of mine, Buster Benson. He talks about how there's three conversations across disagreement, that we have the conversation about what is true, the conversation about what is meaningful, and the conversation about what is useful. We all wanna have the conversation about what is true across disagreement as if it's the only one we can have.

So I get asked a lot: what happens if you're talking to someone and they say something that you know is blatantly untrue? And, and people think, “Well, that's when I hit the abort button. That's when we're done.” Or, “It's my moral imperative to correct them until they accept it.” But that's not gonna happen, most likely.

So instead what you do is you switch to the conversation about what's meaningful. If you don't talk about that thing that's, that you feel is wrong, you get behind that and you ask about the concerns behind that. You ask how that person came to believe and really connect with that idea. Even when there's no truth in people's conclusions, there's always truth in their stories.

And the last thing I'll say because I'm so glad that you brought up this difference between truth and, and trust, is the conversation about what is true is not effective across our society when there is no trust. And the only conversation that builds trust is the one about where people find meaning and where their concerns and fears and hopes are.

[00:13:49] Chris Duffy:
Your book is full of like, “try these, try this” kind of questions. There's so many pieces of that and I think that one of the ones that stood out to me the most, and it's obviously the title of your book as well, but you talk about trying to get to these, “I Never Thought of It That Way” moments you call them “INTOIT moments” in the book. What, what is an INTOIT moment, and, and what are some steps that people can take to try and get there?

[00:14:09] Mónica Guzmán:
Yeah, so I think of, I Never Thought Of It That Way moments, INTOIT moments for short, as the rewards, of a curious conversation when you think or say, “Huh, I never thought of it that way”. It's proof that some perspective has crossed that chasm between someone else's mind and your own.

You don't know what impact it will have, but you have noticed it. And that's saying something, right? Like our brains have a bajillion thoughts every day, but to be able to have the thought, “Oh, that’s new. That’s interesting. That's made a mark on my brain. Maybe it's planted a seed. Maybe it will change something that I think of like in 15 years, and I'll be a completely different person.”

Unlikely, but possible. Maybe it'll be dug outta the ground tomorrow. Who knows? But one way or the other, it's the result of having interacted with difference. And something now looks richer. Something has had an added dimension to it. Some idea has gotten complicated for you because of that I Never Thought Of It That Way moment.

So the way to get those moments is to have more curious conversations, which means that Ted Lasso popularized that quote about “Be curious, not judgmental.” Really famous scene with darts. Anyway, it's a great, it's a great episode, but the cool thing is that when you are curious, you cannot also be judgmental in that moment. When you are judgmental, you cannot also be curious, but you can switch between the two. By default, we’ll often switch from a place of curiosity, and then here's something that triggers us, and then we'll come back to judgment. But then once we're in judgment, what you gotta do is turn it back to curiosity.

As soon as you have the thought, “Oh, they're just saying that because they're X,” you can go, “Well, are they saying that because they're X? Why are they saying that? Let me figure it out. Let me ask some questions generously and try to hear for the answer.”

[00:15:59] Chris Duffy:
It's such a challenging idea to me. Right? I, I am definitely in that place where I feel like my political beliefs are correct and so even the idea of asking people who disagree with me and not trying to convince them, it kind of feels wild and it feels like, um, it feels sometimes to me like I'm in a house that is burning down, and someone is like, “Why don't you just learn a little bit more about fire?” And you know, and it's like, “Ok, but the house is on fire. It's not the time. I need to start spraying water.”

At a certain point, you actually address all of that head-on in the book with, as a comedian, I always love, like, the funny moments. And you had a very funny story about a pastor in one of these workshops who says to the organizer, like.“Are you trying to tell me that I should be building bridges with the Devil?” And John Powell, the head of the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley says, “Well, maybe don't start there.” Uh, and I feel like maybe that is the answer to some of my concerns. It's like, I can imagine the worst person, the most dangerous, violent person, and I'm like, “You're trying to tell me to try and understand and be curious about them?”

[00:17:01] Mónica Guzmán:
No, and I, you're, you're spot on about this, and in fact, I mean, I've been having lots of conversations about the book and talking with a lot of folks, and this is a very, very common and completely valid, you know, sort of barrier to all this.

But, but I try to stay curious about these barriers, and what I ask is, “Why do we keep going to the worst-case scenario?” I mean, oftentimes when we hear advice or suggestions about how to tackle something, we don't, we don't think of the worst possible person that we could talk to and then argue about that.

But that's what we're doing. And I think it's because we're so afraid. We're so afraid of each other. We're afraid of the monster hiding behind our neighbor/ We’re afraid of the monster that seems to be motivating all the wacky, horrible things going on in the world. We're afraid of encountering that person. The only ask here is for all of us to be one step more curious, and that can be as little as not even having a conversation with another person. You could, you could have a more curious conversation with yourself when you're reading an opinion article about the other side, spoken with the voice of the other side, and as you're reading that article that you would normally doom scroll through and hate tweet, you go, “What is the deep down, honest human concern being expressed here? Or what is the strongest argument on this other side? What can I learn from reading this piece?” That in and of itself is being more curious.

The last part of John Powell's anecdote there, you talked about how, yeah, there's a pastor who said, “John, are you asking me to bridge with the Devil?And then he says, “Well, maybe don't start there.” He says, “Do the short bridges.” Don't go for the long bridges right off the bat. Do the short bridges. Someone who agrees with you on everything except this one thing. Someone who doesn't seem to threaten your identity. Go into a house that's not on fire, it’s just warm and, and he says, and after crossing a lot of short bridges, you may ask yourself who you're calling the Devil.

And that's the really radical idea. It's possible that, as I say in my talk, whoever is underrepresented in your life is overrepresented in your imagination. And if you're not checking that imagination with reality every now and then, you run the risk of living in a higher state of anxiety and with more fear than might actually be, be justified by the actual hearts and minds of people who disagree with you.

So what if beginning to have those exchanges doing the small bridges, actually reduces your daily emotional labor? And turns the volume down on all of this madness so that you, we could all get more creative because one of the first casualties of fear is creativity and seeing how we can work together and actually solve problems. So yeah, that's the reframe I'd offer.

[00:19:56] Chris Duffy:
We're gonna take a quick break and then we will be right back after this.


[00:20:06] Chris Duffy:
In Mónica's work as a journalist, she spent a lot of time with people who she doesn't necessarily agree with, trying her best to accurately represent their viewpoints and their stories. That's her job. But wow, that feels so hard to do when it is not your profession. To me, it, it feels scary, it feels overwhelming. It often just feels impossible. Maybe, maybe the idea of the other side that we have in our head isn't quite as accurate as we think it is. Here's another clip from Mónica's TED Talk.

[00:20:33] Mónica Guzmán:
We assume people oppose what we support because they hate what we love. That doesn't just keep us from seeing what we're missing. It keeps us from staying informed about the one thing that scares us most: each other. In one CBS YouGov poll this year, most Americans said that the biggest threat to the American way of life is other Americans. Now, it's true. There are people at our political extremes who are so consumed by hate that they are worth fearing.

But researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked into the hostility each side sends the other, and they found something fascinating. They found that people on either side of America's political divide assume the other side despises them twice as much as they actually do. This fear, it’s a problem because you can't wonder about something you think is out to get you, but certainty, that’s much worse.

[00:21:44] Chris Duffy:
Talking one of the other things that comes to mind for me is the idea of like, if you're building these smaller bridges, it also clarifies what you actually believe, right? Like the, you don't wanna have to defend your right to exist, but a little bit of friction on, “So why do you think that?”

I don't actually naturally think that I know that I care about this, but why? What's my argument for it? I love what you said about the, the house that's warm that's not yet on fire. Like, is this a way of maybe taking down the temperature a little bit so that we don't get to the place where things burst into flames?

[00:22:10] Mónica Guzmán:
Honestly, I think it's the only way. It’s the only way to turn out the temperature meaningfully is to go and, and check these assumptions because it's, it's in the rawness of, of how we think about things, and it's witnessing where people themselves are torn because that's another sort of harmful assumption we make is that the people who disagree with us are quite certain, they're quite sure, but then you go and talk to them and, and you talk in this generous way where you're open and candid and you see that things are more than you might have realized.

Just yesterday, I was at a university, and hearing the story from a woman who is very, very pro-choice on the abortion debate and went out in the streets and protested after the reversal of Roe versus Wade but has managed to maintain a very good friendship with someone who is very pro-life. But one of the ways it feels that they've maintained that friendship is by never talking about abortion. And after Roe was reversed, a, a door opened, just a crack, and she discovered that her pro-life friend believes in exceptions to abortion bans for, in the case of rape and incest. And she was shocked because she always assumed that her friend was so pro-life that she would, she would wanna ban abortion in absolutely all cases. It blew her mind. Right?

And so it just, it was a reminder of when, when we're so certain, uh, of each other's views that we don't ask, we actually keep ourselves from knowing the truth about other people, even the people close to us, even the perspectives of the people who are close to us. And so, how much are we missing when we don't get curious?

[00:23:51] Chris Duffy:
All of this, to me, brings up when I think about my own life, how do I even start finding someone to have these depolarizing conversations with? Because it feels like I am definitely in a self-selected bubble of I, I try to not as, because I've put such moral judgments on my politics, I have felt like, well, I don't want to associate with someone who is immoral. So how do you start to find someone who is that shorter bridge? What would you recommend as a, as a step to take?

[00:24:19] Mónica Guzmán:
I think it's really unlikely that everyone in your circle, or in anyone's circle, really fully agrees with them on everything. It's, it's extremely unlikely. Now, on these, on these more sorts of high-stakes moral issues, you might think, “Well, no, there's gonna be very little to say.” But check it out: how might we be assuming agreement? And could we invite nuance into that presumed agreement, right?

So something happens in the headlines. It sort of comes up in conversation and, and you can ask about that. Yeah. What about this issue of having folks in schools with guns? What do y'all think about that? And you might, you might discover that your friends have more nuanced ideas than you thought.

There's some interesting kind of values put into tension there for a lot of people. And it may not fall on the red-blue divide. And in fact, again, I think that's one of the harmful things about our climate is that we assume that everything does really neatly. So, so the people close to you may actually be a good starting point if you bring it up and actually ask the question instead of walk through under the presumption that you all mostly agree.

The other thing is that while the internet is, uh, in a lot of ways in its design, great for dividing us, it's also fantastic how easily you can find conversations within groups that are generous and that share a certain perspective. There's all kinds of beautiful communities of libertarians and conservatives and liberals where people are not trying to troll the other side or anything like that, but they're really just connecting with each other, and there's ways to kind of listen in on that and every now and then kind of pipe up if it's appropriate.

But I find that really interesting that, that we're actually expressing ourselves so much that a generous, curious mind can treat the internet very differently from how we tend to treat it. Not chasing dopamine lollipops, like chasing moments where we're just activated and, and sort of engaged in this sort of, ah, like tribal way. But, but chasing, I Never Thought of It That Way moments.

[00:26:12] Chris Duffy:
You talk about this hypothetical conversation meter that has five dials that you can turn up or down and that you should think about when you're having conversations. So can you tell us what those dials on your conversation meter are and how to think about which ones we wanna be turned up and down when we're having a, a conversation across the divide?

[00:26:30] Mónica Guzmán:
Yeah. So the first one is time. A lot, a lot of times we start conversations when there just isn't any time. Someone’s on their way out the door, someone's really busy and has something to do, and you don't, you don't wanna bring up a tough topic when there isn't time to really sit with it because people's impatience will play a role.

The second one is attention. So how much of the other person's attention do you really have and how much of, you know, your attention do they have? A lot of times we're online and people have a million tabs open, and their mind is splintered into a bunch of things. You don't know if they're waiting for the bus or if they're having a conversation. If you're on the phone and texting, they're having two other conversations that you, you're not even privy to. So only about 20% of their brain is with you every, like, minute and a half. So is that a time when you wanna be talking about tough things? You, you'd rather have them all there.

Then there's parity, which is P-A-R-I-T-Y, which is about sort of the balance of power. And I mean this in a, in a platform sense, a sort of technological sense. If someone's on stage and someone's asking a question with a microphone, the person on stage has the power. If someone is posting on Facebook and someone is commenting, the person posting on Facebook can erase that comment, block that person, hide it. You know if you don't have that parity, which is why you often go on social media sites and you see someone post something controversial, right? And then, and then you're like peering in the, the comment's going, “Man, I wonder if people kind of disagreed.” And then, well, they never do because, because we're so used to being filtered out, right of, of our friends’ pages in a lot of ways.

Then there's containment, which is so important. Containment is the degree to which your conversation is actually contained to the people participating in it. Very often on social media and other platforms, we have this huge mass of invisible listeners, and we don't get to witness their listening. We don't get any feedback from them whatsoever. They didn't like the poster, not like it, but for all we know, they're reading what we have to say with a scowl on their face.

So they're making judgments about who we are. They're going, “Oh wow. Mónica's not who I thought she was.” And so we have those projections in our head when we have uncontained conversations. And so what happens is that we perform our perspectives instead of explore our perspectives. It's very hard to be candid in an uncontained conversation.

And then finally, embodiment. And that's just: how much of the full toolbox of human communication are you actually using? Are you gonna go into a really, really hard job with the tiniest little kit? Why would you do that? Why would you leave all your tools at home? Don't do that. That's silly. This is a very hard job. Bring it all. Bring your gestures, bring your tone. Things like goodwill don't easily get communicated in words when you're having an argument. They could communicate it in people's faces. How they smiled, the, the tension releasing giggles in the middle of things. This is important.

[00:29:22] Chris Duffy:
I think containment is such an interesting one because these days it does feel like even non-public figures have a real fear about what will other people think when they hear this conversation. Obviously, on social media, it is hard to have a nuanced conversation because other people keep jumping in and you know, they're trying to come in and dunk on someone. So, how do you make it feel safer for a person to talk to you about an idea that's different?

[00:29:51] Mónica Guzmán:
It is more difficult on social media, but it is not impossible. To quote a friend of mine, “Social media is the boss level of discourse.” You have to put into words the things that you normally just communicate automatically, like goodwill, like good intent, and wanting to build trust, and this sort of welcoming that, that we have in our faces when we ask a question with compassion. And so it's, it's about bringing all of that into the limited tool set and platform that you have. And it absolutely is possible.

I think a big, big, and maybe the most important tool is modeling. So if you want to have a context of intellectual humility, of openness, and of candor, you model it. So, so I, I try to do that as soon as I can in a conversation. Get us past any kind of pretense. Get us past the talking points, right?

Because most of the time what people will do when they don't feel very secure to actually explore their real perspectives is they will just grab the talking point that they've seen other people take shelter under. And so when we do that, when it's just talking point versus talking point, we're basically having proxy battles, proxy conversations. They're not real.

You mentioned earlier in this conversation how, how awesome it is, actually, when a curious conversation helps us understand what we think, when somebody asks us that, like what a gift it is to actually be like, oh, “Do my ideas cohere?” and to see some of the contradictions and dissonance in our own narratives.

I was going to call one of my chapters early on, uh, by a phrase that somebody said, that gave me, an I Never Thought of It That Way moment, and the phrase was: “Meaning is in people, not words.” And it really struck me because we, I think, can become very legalistic with each other about words and about language and about what is meant by them because we, we so often spend time in communities that are like-minded. We develop our own language and then we begin to think, “This is the only right language.” And in fact, when people use different language, it's clearly because they oppose what our language encodes and embodies and supports. They oppose these things, but there's other places where the words themselves encode certain values and some people's political perspective doesn't feel well reflected in a certain term.

So, you know, for example, there's sort of voter rights, voter suppression, voting integrity, trustworthy elections. What is the best name for what's going on with elections right now? And depending on what, what your biggest concern is, you might think voter suppression is by far the best name. Or you might think that voter security, voting security, and election security is by far the best name.

So how can you have the same conversation? How do you make sure that you don't take the fact that someone's using a different name as “all of a sudden that's it, it’s over”? I can, I can be certain that they believe these things that would oppose me. What I've found is that the opposite is almost always the case.

There's a lot of nuance there, and by bringing your name and your concerns, mixing it in with theirs, you both get wiser and richer and realize that, “Oh, this is complicated. This is, I mean, I'm still, I feel really strongly about voter suppression. I feel really strongly about election security, but now I've talked to someone who's telling me that there's this other piece that's really big for them that I'm probably not thinking hard enough about.”

[00:33:25] Chris Duffy:
You know, we've talked a lot about your book and about these conversations, but we haven't talked, talked about the fact that you are a journalist and that you use this in your work. So I, I wonder how you think about your role as a journalist in, affects the ideas about supporting, trying to have better conversations and how you implement that.

[00:33:41] Mónica Guzmán:
So it's in my years of journalism that I've learned some of the most powerful ways to really understand people and, and I've, I've taken seriously that that's my job. My job as a journalist is understand this person, where they're coming from, why they support what they support, what have you. And then hope, hope, hope that I can do a good enough job representing that to their community so that the community can make better decisions.

That's my job. So you come into this conversation seeking to understand, and one of the most effective ways to do that is to help people become storytellers. Not just “What do you think? Why do you think it?” But instead, “Okay, I understand this is, this is your position. What led you to this? Tell, tell me. Tell me about that. Oh, give me an example of when that happened.”

And so, getting people to weave their story is amazing because a really cool thing happens to your, your mind, to… Your mind gets out of the mode of just evaluating the goodness or badness of or even the logic of them, and it goes into a mode of sort of playing someone else's movie in your head.

And it goes, so, it goes such a long way toward that person feeling heard and you actually hearing them and actually kind of stepping into their shoes a little bit, and that unlocks so much. So that's a wonderful, a wonderful thing. And then the other is, I honestly, the most powerful question that I've asked as a journalist is just simply: “What are your concerns?”

And then you can ask the flip side of that. The brighter side of the same exact question is, “What do you hope for? If this happens, what do you hope to see?” And, and either way, that gets you a sense of where people put meaning onto events and policies and ideas. It's where, where their meaning comes from, what their values are, what their value hierarchies are, and man, that just, that just brings to life a person.

[00:35:31] Chris Duffy:
The show's called How to Be a Better Human. What is one thing that you are personally working on to be a better human right now?

[00:35:38] Mónica Guzmán:
Oh my gosh. What a fun question. I am trying to be much more present with my children. The times when I have my phone and my, I'm, my attention is divided and they're around, or my daughter comes up to show me her latest drawing… She draws and draws and draws all day long, and then I snap at her a little bit, even just a little bit because I'm trying to finish this email, it’s, oh, it just kills me inside, and it's every time it does that, a little piece of me dies.

And so I recently took all my social media and my email and took it off my phone, and I put it in like a secondary old phone that's just glued to my desk and doesn't leave. And when I come upstairs from my downstairs office, I'm with my family.

[00:36:21] Chris Duffy:
Well, Mónica Guzmán, thank you so much for being here. It has been a pleasure to talk to you and your book, I Never Thought Of It That Way, I absolutely love it. Thank you so much, Mónica. It was really a pleasure.

[00:36:32] Mónica Guzmán:
Totally. Thank you for having me. This was fun.

[00:36:37] Chris Duffy:
That is our show for today. Thank you so much for listening to How to Be a Better Human. I'm your host, Chris Duffy. A very big thank you to today's guest, Mónica Guzmán. Her book is called, I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations In Dangerously Divided Times. Mónica is the Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels.

You can find out more about their work online at From TED, our show is brought to you by Jimmy Gutierrez and Anna Phelan, who disagree respectfully; Rithu Jagannath and Erica Yuen, who are trying their best to get curious about each other's positions; and Julia Dickerson, who sticks to the facts and refuses to give an opinion of any kind.

And from PRX, Jocelyn Gonzales and Sandra Lopez-Monsalve, who both took my number out of their cell phones and put it into an old phone that is glued to their desks.

Thanks, most of all, to you for listening. I hope that wherever you sit on the political spectrum, you got something out of this conversation and did not, once again, feel like I had infuriated you on every level. If you did enjoy the show, please leave us a positive rating and review. We would love to hear from you.

And if you hated this episode, please close this app immediately and go outside until you forget that all of this has ever happened. We will be back with more episodes for you next week. Until then, stay curious.