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Beyond Contempt (PDF)
How Liberals Can Communicate Across the Great Divide
Liberal and progressive frustration, grief, and alarm over Trump's destructive political agenda and behavior have prompted mounting disdain for Trump supporters and other conservatives. This reaction is contributing to political polarization and unwittingly serving to strengthen Trump’s hand as he sows divisiveness and hatred. In Beyond Contempt, Erica Etelson shows us how to communicate respectfully, passionately, and effectively across the political divide without soft-pedaling our beliefs. Using Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skill sets, we can express ourselves in ways that inspire open-minded consideration instead of triggering defensive reaction. Providing detailed instruction and dozens of examples of how to discuss hot button topics,Beyond Contempt is a must-have guide to productive dialogue that can defuse hostility, build trust, and open hearts and minds in unexpected ways.
Erica Etelson is a writer, community activist, and certified Powerful Non-Defensive Communication facilitator. A former human rights attorney, she has advocated in support of welfare recipients, prisoners, indigenous peoples, immigrants, and environmental activists. She has also organized for clean, community-owned energy as part of a just transition to a local, low-carbon economy. Following the 2016 election, Etelson became active in the resistance movement and in left-right dialogue initiatives. Her articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Progressive Populist, Truthout and Alternet. She lives with her husband and son in Berkeley, California.
"Whether you're debating a talk show host, co-worker, or "Fox addicted" Uncle Ralph at Thanksgiving, this book will teach you how to reach people's minds and hearts without wounding them in ways that produce the opposite result you wanted. Brilliant!!"
— Thom Hartmann, NY Times bestselling author and America's #1 progressive talk show host
"Read this book! Connection is the deep strategy for winning in politics... and in life. Beyond Contempt shows us ways to align our communication style with our values of inclusion, open-mindedness, and kindness."
— Joan Blades, co-founder, Living Room Conversations, MomsRising, and MoveOn.org
"Etelson channels her first-hand experience going door-to-door in this insightful exploration of how to connect with people, bridge divides, and communicate effectively across differences. She highlights the principles our canvassers practice every night: rather than tell voters what they believe is wrong, start by listening, treat people with respect, and introduce new information."
— Matt Morrison, executive director, Working America, AFL-CIO
"Etelson's book is a true gem. It poignantly and compellingly captures the disdainful attitudes and counterproductive conversational strategies that many progressives employ when talking to conservative people. There are numerous clarifying examples provided to help support the sharp and probing analysis, as well as numerous gems of insight about the predicament we are in. The extremely illustrative and practical suggestions in the second half of the book about what folks can do is wonderful. The book helped improve both my thinking about the divide and the language that I will use when trying to nudge other progressives toward greater compassion and effectiveness. Beyond Contempt is an excellent resource for any liberal who wants to heal our divided nation or to pursue the goal of becoming more persuasive with conservatives."
— David Campt, principal, The White Ally Toolkit, an initiative of The Dialogue Company
"An extraordinary work, simultaneously sharply critical and brilliantly optimistic. Beyond Contempt makes the profound case that style is content, and the quality of our rhetoric matters. Here's a brilliant book that maintains that the goal for progressives is not merely recovery of leadership and power, but the creation of frameworks of logic and values that are consistent with our longer term goals. This is a revelatory work, positive and brilliant."
— Jerry Mander, founder, International Forum on Globalization, and author, The Capitalist Papers, and In the Absence of the Sacred
"Beyond Contempt carries a profound message that is beyond the scope of any brand of partisan politics. It is a map for how to create sustainable societal change from a place of integrity that aligns with the kind of world we want to create."
— Fareen Jamal, lawyer, accredited mediator, past chair, Ontario Bar Association (OBA) Family Law Section, 2014 OBA Heather MacArthur Memorial Young Lawyers Award
"Erica Etelson has the courage to hold up the mirror — first, to look at herself with unflinching honesty, and then to invite the rest of us to see how our disdain exacerbates the divide. She does not stop there, thankfully, but goes on to offer us a solution — a tool for changing our attitude so that we can be curious, direct, true to ourselves, and kinder to others. Erica Etelson can be our guide back to humanity. I hope you will take the mirror, and then follow her lead."
— Carolyn Wilkes Kaas, associate dean, Experiential Education, co-director, Center on Dispute Resolution, Quinnipiac University School of Law
"In a political environment marred by Trump's extreme impropriety, it's easy for progressives to lose sight of our own role in deepening the divide. Beyond Contempt shows us why treating all people with respect is essential to our democracy and the key to building a winning coalition for 2020 and beyond."
— Karin Tamerius, MD, founder, Smart Politics