Love Your Enemies

How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt

[Amazon Link]

The author, Arthur C. Brooks, reveals on page 2 that this book was spurred by a conversation he had at a meeting of "a large group of conservative activists in New Hampshire". Hey, they let inactivists in as well, and I was there!

Arthur's speech that day noted that conservatives traditionally lose to leftists when people are asked whether a politician "cares about the problems of people like me". His suggestion to conservatives: frame your proposals better. Fine, but: he was accosted afterward by a woman who thought he was being too nice to liberals: "They are stupid and evil."

Whoa. Political activists have never been especially nice to their opponents, but Arthur argues that things are getting worse, threatening the very fabric of America. We have (see the subtitle) a large and growing "culture of contempt", destroying relationships and hurting the country. And not only hurting the country, hurting the individuals feeling contempt. It ain't good for you, mentally, and probably not physically.

I admit to a continual guilty feeling while reading this book. Because for a few years now, I've described my primary emotion toward politicians as "contempt". With a caveat: Arthur defines "contempt" neatly as "anger mixed with disgust". That doesn't seem quite right in my case, as I tend not to get angry, at least not as angry as I used to.

But I have one of the primary symptoms of contempt Arthur mentions: eye-rolling. Man, sometimes it feels as if they're gonna roll right out of their sockets.

Well, enough about me. Arthur's ruminations on improving one's attitudes toward political opponents are wise, insightful, occasionally funny. He conveniently summarizes his recommendations at the end:

  1. Stand up to the man. Refuse to be used by the powerful. Pols know how the culture of contempt works, and are not shy about pressing their supporters' buttons to "fire them up". Don't play that game.
  2. Escape the bubble. Go where you're not invited, and say things people don't expect. This should be easy in pre-primary New Hampshire. But am I too lazy?
  3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it's difficult. Maybe especially when it's difficult.
  4. Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas. I will try.
  5. Tune out. Disconnect more from the unproductive debates. I've mentioned my lefty Facebook friends from time to time. Sometimes I disagree in their threads. Resolution: when I feel that I'm repeating myself, I'm probably right. If I said something once, that's enough.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has political opinions and might want to discuss them.