“Should Roe v. Wade be overturned?,” was the question asked by one of my friends on Facebook the other day. Normally, I would have scrolled on past, sure that if I were to weigh in, it would become a raging inferno of disagreement, insults, and hurt. The divisiveness of our country scares me, but for that very reason, I decided to engage, to “run toward the problem as a person of good will,” as Arthur Cooke said and I quoted in my last post. I decided to comment and ended up just conversing with someone on the other end of the abortion opinion spectrum, practicing the good internet communication skills I’ve been reading about.
You see, from what I can tell, that divisiveness is growing daily, fed by a windstorm of people who are all too willing to shout their opinions anonymously over the internet but not willing to listen, and a vacuum of people with strong opinions and loving hearts that desire peace, but who are unable or unequipped to speak up. What we need is dialogue, true dialogue, because we all share a democracy, and that dialogue only happens when people of all persuasions both speak their minds assertively, not aggressively, and listen actively.
It’s not that I think such dialogue will or even should make us all agree. I have no more hope of that happening than I do of my husband and I agreeing on everything 100% of the time. But at the least, we should all feel safe, connected, free to speak our opinions, eager to hear others’, and willing to do what needs to be done so that others feel the same way. At most, our federal and state laws and policies should reflect compromise, if not understanding. Our democracy, our families, neighborhoods, cities, communities, workplaces, and states are what we make of them.
But how does one create dialogue, especially around polarizing topics like abortion, on the internet? And to what end?
Think about how the internet started. It was just a few academicians who wanted their computers to talk to each other, to connect. Those two have been joined by millions more over the years. It organically grew from a simple desire to connect, and it does do that in many wonderful ways, like:
helping people find real-life love, through dating sites and apps
connecting people with resources they might not have known about otherwise
enabling families to stay in touch more easily and dynamically
Facebook, for instance, has given me the opportunity to connect in real life with friends I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and would have had no other way to find them without Facebook and friends connecting with friends. Without the internet, I wouldn’t have found certain support networks for mothers of kids with ADD and other disorders. I wouldn’t have been able to connect with thousands of other book aficionados in the #writingcommunity or with various agents and publishers on Twitter, or with other book reviewers and fans through #bookstagram on Instagram. And don’t even get me started on how helpful ordering my groceries online or Amazon is. I keep in touch with my parents and siblings across the country via Marco Polo. These are all things that would not be possible without the ubiquitous power of the internet.
But it has also enabled inflammatory and hurtful speech to spread so much more quickly and widely than anything else in human history. Joe Battaglia, author of Unfriended: Finding True Community in a Disconnected Culture, says:
“A spirit of unforgiveness has been unleashed in our land, and it’s consuming us. The internet fosters this spirit, and we must consider the alternative to extinguish this wildfire of the tongue before it burns our entire land with bitterness.” (see full review here and deal ($11.52 instead of $14.99 through Amazon) here.
Because people experience disinhibition on the internet and feel relatively free of serious adverse consequences because of physical distance and reduced accountability, they often use tactics that go far beyond what they might use in person.
Examples of these tactics include threats, name-calling, and harassment. Wallace attributes these actions to anonymity, which is “another potent ingredient in the internet mixture as it applies to aggression.”
Most Americans tend to agree with Battaglia and Wallace. Two surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014 and 2018 reveal that while 88 percent of them feel like the internet has been a good thing for them personally, the percentage of people who feel like it’s been good for society as a whole went down by 6 percent over those four years.
You’d think, with how much we use the internet, and the plentiful opportunities for its negative use, that someone would’ve developed an authoritative manual for how to communicate in any one of its vast number of platforms, forums, channels, groups, sites, or platforms. Instead, given that there isn’t one and anonymity or false identity is possible if not prevalent, can successful, important dialogue take place on the internet?
Yes it can. Indeed, it should. There are, in fact, many books on good old-fashioned communication that can easily be applied to internet dialogue. I’ve quoted Crucial Conversations before, for instance. These are the guidelines they provide for having conversations about important topics, at least the guidelines that I feel apply to internet discourse especially.
Start with your heart: if you’re not good with yourself, when conversations become crucial, you’ll most likely resort to ineffective forms of communication, like defensiveness, debate, etc.
Realize that there are more options than agreeing or fighting, and say you’d like to find them together
Search for the elusive “And” by clarifying what you really want and don’t want, and asking what others want and don’t want. Look for overlap (i.e., things you have in common).
Make it safe: step out of the content enough to state that everyone’s views are respected, and everyone needs to brainstorm solutions or compromises.
Establish mutual purpose and respect: somewhere in that overlap is something you and whoever is arguing with you have in common, even if it’s only fairness. You need to want to get to know the other side or person well enough that you can at least understand what that is. And you need to not be afraid to say who you are and what you think is right.
If a misunderstanding arises in the conversation, which it will, contrast to fix it, meaning, for example, something like: “The last thing I want to do is say that I don’t value your opinion, because I do. I can see you really feel it’s important that_________. I also feel that ______ is important, but my view differs from yours in that________.”
Authors Roger Fisher and William Ury say, in their book Getting to Yes:
Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, (which you can get for $7.19 instead of $17 on Amazon) that everything in life is negotiation, whether we’re negotiating with our spouse about where to go to dinner or our child about when to go to bed, and it can be done, even when people are
Never bargain over positions, because doing so tends to lock people into theirs.
Put yourself in their shoes.
Describe the problem in terms of its impact on you rather than what the other side/person is doing or saying. “I feel scared when…” as opposed to “You’re a racist.”
Like Patterson, et al., they also recommend focusing on people and what interests you have in common with them, no matter the situation. Easy enough to do in theory, but can it be done in practice?
Erica Simon, in her book You Deserve the Truth: Change the Storiesthat Shaped Your World and Build a World-Changing Life (very good book, by the way. Full review here. Deal here), says we need to change the stories we tell ourselves when they’re not working for us any more.
One of the things that isn’t working for me, that even scares me on a daily basis, is not only the fact that so many people die by guns every year, and that I worry about my kids being shot and dying while at school, but also, and perhaps more so, the fact that we can’t have sufficient dialogue in our country to find a way (a compromise?) to solve The Great American Gun Debate so that both sides are satisfied (i.e., everyone is safer AND gun rights are still protected). Let’s see if we can talk about this, hmmm, perhaps using the principles I talked about above?
Say you’re scrolling down your Twitter feed, and you come across someone spouting something particularly opinionated, rude, or derogatory. Just a quick scan of their post reveals that it’s about something you heartily disagree with, and/or is expressed in such a prejudicial way that you immediately scroll past it. You think, “Why should I engage with that person?,” especially if you’re on a platform where you don’t actually know the person in real life.
Worse yet, what if you post what you think is an innocuous comment in a Facebook group only to get lambasted by people calling you names?
Or say you’re watching the news and a story about another mass public shooting comes on. You watch with a deadened heart, feeling incredibly sad but knowing without a doubt that, somehow, the same cycle of events will play out after this shooting as has played out around the many others before it: an outpouring of support for the victims and their families, a resurgence of the gun control/rights debate, and then a fading to nothing as that debate settles into a stalemate once again. So you change the channel or site you’re on, since it’s much easier to do that than dwell in the frustration, no matter which side you’re on. What can you do about it anyway?
How about if you’re a parent of a teenager who comes home from school and tells you that his friend has declared herself “pansexual,” and he asks what that is and what he should do about it. Basically, he wants to know what to think because he has little frame of reference for this, and how to navigate the already-complicated social labyrinth of high school with this additional facet incorporated. You google an easy way to explain the term, tell him to still be friends with her, give him a pat on the back and an “I know you’ll figure it out” statement of confidence, but inside you’re thinking: “I have no idea what to tell him. It’s not like I dealt with this a lot when I was in high school.”
What if I said to stop scrolling and engage, to finish watching that news story about the shooting and even think about it, or to explore ways to really help your teenager understand the dynamics of the society, at least as much as they can be understood? You’d probably say, “why?” Why should you try to understand someone else’s perspective if you’re never going to actually interact with them? Why should you try to learn more about the other side of the gun debate, or any debate for that matter, if you’ve got your mind made up, they’ve made up theirs, and no one’s ever going to change their mind or compromise? And certainly there’s no way to understand teenagers or high school and the new-ish world of LGBTQ, so there’s definitely no reason to try, and even less to help your teenager understand.
While there’s definitely credence to the fact that teenagers and high school are hard to understand, even when you’re that age and at that level of education, there’s less credence to your resistance to engaging, learning, and helping (or rather, our resistance because everyone does it in some way or another). This isn’t to say we’re wrong or horrible people for doing so; that isn’t what this post is about at all. This IS to say that there may be more of a need to do so than you think, and ways to do so that you maybe haven’t thought about before. And, there might be more benefits to you that you hadn’t realized before.
“More of a need?” you say. “How can that be? More tools? Surely, if the tools existed to solve problems like shootings and the Great Gun Stalemate, someone would’ve figured out what they were and applied them already! And how on earth could there ever be any benefit to me for talking to that insensitive, close-minded brute on Twitter?”
To which I reply: “Most definitely, not even close, and unimaginable boons.”
So you shake your head and say to yourself: “She’s finally done it: she’s gone bonkers,” with your finger poised to close this tab and open Pinterest in another to search for no-bake cookie recipes that don’t dry out (an almost impossible quest, mind you).
Bear with me. I’m only partially crazy, I promise.
Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, says, “America’s problem today is not just anger; it’s contempt. Most people say that civility is the solution. I don’t. That’s too low of a standard. The solution is loving your enemies.”
“Our government was shut down for a month. If that’s not a sign of contempt, I don’t know what is. If our president and congress can’t work things out, how is there any hope for the rest of us?”
“The contempt in America is so out of control, there’s no way decent people could save America.”
“I’m a decent person, but there’s no way I can sway the tide, let alone save the country.”
In an address given at the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University in October of 2018, Dr. Brooks provided sound reasoning behind the need for decent people to try, and practical ideas for doing so. “The secret to healing our nation,” he said, “has to be related to the way we heal our relationships with each other.” In that respect, loving our enemies is less his admonition than a reminder of the same directive given to us by Jesus Christ in the Bible. In fact, one wonders if Jesus, even in his earthly guise, could see more than 2,000 years into the future, and give us exactly the piece of advice we need to straighten out the mess America currently finds itself in.
The fact that Arthur Brooks, like Jesus, doesn’t say “love your country” or “just be good and everything will work out,” but instead specifically names who we should love–our enemy–seems indicative, I think, of deep wisdom, at least on the part of Brooks, if not divine vision on the part of Jesus. The way we got into this mess is the depersonification of others, at least in part, by seeing other people as somehow less human than ourselves.
Dr. Brent Slife, a professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, agrees. “People often avoid complications by abstracting other humans,” he writes in his book Frailty, Suffering, and Vice: Flourishing in the Face of Human Limitations, “insulating [them]selves from people who espouse different viewpoints” (113). “The cultural emphasis on individual separateness is part of the problem, [though]. The idea of individual separateness…paints the world as a resource “out there,” potentially available to meet our personal needs” (106). If one views the world and other people as “out there,” “other,” or just a way to meet one’s needs, then it follows that, if the world or the people in it don’t meet our needs in one way or another, it becomes more so.
One might even say, like Slife, that: “Commodification is the next logical step in this model of relationships” (106). But “commodifying people is another kind of self-inflicted wound because it makes it all the more difficult to form the special, committed, caring relationships we so clearly need.” (By the way, Frailty, Suffering, and Vice is available on Amazon for $20 off its normal price of $69.95 here. At $48.85, it’s an expensive book, but one that contains a lot of well-researched and fascinating truths. You’ll end up referring to it all the time, saying to yourself the whole time: “Yes, people do that! So true.)
So, to fix things, the first step is to see everyone as human, which means to realize that they, like us, have strengths, weaknesses, backstories, challenges, fears, opinions, hopes, disappointments, dreams, etc. Authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, in their book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, say, in response to the question of why talk with them in the first place:
Say a friend said some things to you that most people might get upset over. In order for this person to be able to deliver the delicate message, you must have believed he or she cared about you, or about your goals and objectives. That means you trusted his or her purposes so you were willing to listen to some pretty tough feedback.
Crucial conversations often go awry not because of the content of the conversation, but because others [or you] believe that the painful and pointed content means that you [or others] have a malicious intent. How can they [or you] feel safe when they believe you’re out to do them harm [or vice versa]?
Consequently, the first condition of safety is mutual purpose. [This] means that others perceive that we are working toward a common outcome in the conversation, that we care about their goals, interests, and values. And vice versa. We believe they care about ours. Consequently, Mutual Purpose is the entry condition of dialogue. Find a shared goal and you have both a good reason and a healthy climate for talking.
The second step, according to Cooke, is to get rid of the bad habit of contempt. The best way, he says, is not to just stop it “cold turkey,” say, by “turning the other cheek” and either scrolling past someone stridently proclaiming their opinion on Twitter or even agreeing with someone who celebrates the passing of laws that decidedly weaken abortion restrictions. The best way is to replace the habit with something else that can be just as habitual, but not as harmful.
What should that habit be? The Dalai Lama says to replace it with warm-heartedness. Answer contempt with warm-heartedness. But what does that mean? “Go in search of contempt in your life,” says Cooke. “If you avoid the conflict, you can’t solve the problem. Run toward [it], as people of goodwill.”
It makes sense, even sounds easy, when said like that, in the abstract, but what does that actually mean, and how does one do that in today’s online world?
By developing a strong heart, which is the third step. “Developing warm-heartedness is not for the weak in heart–contempt is for the weak–but for the strong-hearted. Those who are in touch with their own souls and in control of their own lives are stronger,” says Cooke.
It might be argued that, if President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi were to apply just these three principles to themselves, the Great Government Shutdown of 2019, which really only victimized the American people, not themselves, could’ve at least ended in a compromise. In that situation, they were each acting like a mother or father threatening to, or in fact not, feed their children as a way of manipulating their spouse into agreement.
The need for conflict resolution is great right now.
How do I know that, beyond what I feel when I scroll through my social media feeds, watch or read the news, and talk with friends and acquaintances? I could cite statistics about the tens of thousands of people who die by guns each year, but that commodifies the victims and doesn’t take into account those on the other side of the debate, who can’t be so easily quantified. I could give the number of abortions done every day in the United States, but that too neither adequately conveys the number of people affected by those abortions nor the number of people who hold strong opinions on either side of that debate.
I could also talk about demonstrations, protests, op-ed pieces, certain YouTube videos or podcasts, etc., but not even they capture the extent, depth, or complicated nature of the contention sizzling through our interactions both abstract and concrete, and our subsequent actions.
The worse that contention gets, though, the more I want to do what I can to lessen it, for these reasons:
When it comes down to it, it’s just us. There is no impartial, non-human being that can mediate solutions between dueling couples, family members, or countries so that both parties are happy and divorce, family dissolution, or war is prevented. Not even God, Allah, or whatever higher being you believe in (if you do) will interfere unless absolutely necessary; they, like good parents, want to see if we can resolve conflicts on our own.
It is what we make it. Everyone, to some extent, thinks that our governments, our leaders, anyone who’s tasked with guiding us or setting rules, is somehow not “us.” We tend to blame others for our conflicts, but everyone from the highest leader to the lowliest homeless person is human, subject to the whims of nature, the caprices of sickness, and the lure of power. At any one time, the world is what we make of it: how we respond, collectively and individually, to what’s going on around us. Ideally, we have a world in which all of us can be happy, but we all have different ways that we envision true happiness, most of which don’t involve the rest of the world. What we don’t realize is that…
What we should be making is connections, not destroying them. One of the cornerstones of true happiness is connection, according to Brene Brown in Daring Greatly, Slife et al. in Frailty, Suffering, and Vice; Hilary Jacobs Hendel in It’s Not Always Depression, Jesus in the Bible, and many other experts. This doesn’t mean you have to throw a huge party even if you’re an introvert, or hug everyone even if you’re fiercely independent. It does mean acknowledging that we, as humans, are “profoundly social creatures.” Says Slife: “Because our social nature is so pervasive, it is easy to take it for granted. Like the air we breathe, the centrality of our nature is usually apparent only when something goes wrong. For this reason, it has been easy to think that virtue and the good life are all about the individual.” In reality, though, you can’t have a good life totally and completely alone.
Admitting that, though, and admitting that we’re all as vulnerable to death and problems as the next guy, is REALLY, REALLY hard. Living in that vulnerability while still striving for “the good life:” even harder, if not impossible. Deep down, we’re all scared, sad, or mad at someone and/or something.
So everyone puts up a variety of defenses to keep themselves from feeling those “core emotions” of fear, sadness, or anger. Hendel provides a list of more then 40 in her book–everything from eye-rolling, stonewalling, and racism, to addictions–but I would venture to add a few more and the caveat that there are probably as many variations on those defenses as there are people on this Earth. The point is that most of us will do almost anything to avoid truly feeling and working through those core emotions, even though we have no idea we’re doing it.
On the other side of helping each other through those emotions is a whole-hearted life, and that life can be wonderful, no matter what your circumstances. Cooke/the Dali Lama call it “warm-heartedness.” Brene Brown calls it “whole-hearted,” and Hendel calls it the “open-hearted state of the authentic self.” It’s a state of being in which one feels calm, curious, connected, compassionate, confident, courageous, clear, vulnerable but sufficient, and grateful. Can you imagine living like that, no matter your difficulties? Talk about “unimaginable boons.”
So, yes, there is more of a need, and in the coming months, I’ll talk about ways to ameliorate that contention and contempt, ways that are simple in theory but all too difficult to put into practice. They include communication techniques derived from books on negotiation, relationships, and the internet. They include strategies for finding common ground, also derived from books (because that’s what I do). They may even include a few philosophies and tips on developing warm-heartedness, or whatever state of “-heartedness” you want, even in the face of hostility, from thought-leaders like Brene Brown. They will all illuminate concrete ways you can and should “run toward it as people of goodwill.”
In future posts, I’m going to talk about how to apply those techniques, strategies, philosophies, and ways to specific issues like gun control, our society’s complicated response to LGBTQ+ people, race relations, women’s rights, abortion, immigration, and others. These posts will include lists of all the books written on each subject, and short assays of the top three to five, as determined by search results or social media polls I’ll conduct in the weeks leading up to each post’s release.
There have been more than 250 books, for instance, on the subject of guns and gun violence in America but only a handful of them actually talk about solutions. And of those, even fewer talk about solutions that seem to take into account all points of view. I’ve been reading those. This is so that, if you want to educate yourself on any particular issue, or maybe even the side of it you don’t understand or agree with, you can. And if you don’t want to, or don’t have the time to read through any of those books, you can ask me to, and I will, and summarize it for you in the context of the pursuit of collective “heartedness.”
It is my very sincere hope that you will find something useful in these posts, something that gives you hope that a resolution can be found no matter where your opinions lie on those issues, and a desire to commune with your fellow human beings for your benefit and the good of others. I aspire to the possibility that a beginning of that resolution can be found in conversations sparked by my posts, in the comments here or in social media.
In fact, I dream, of peace. Join me, won’t you?
While writing the above, I’ve also been busy
moving back in,
learning how to live with and still love my husband, who has Crohn’s and anxiety, with me having depression (which is no small feat),
seeing my therapist,
connecting with friends and family,
signing up for writers conferences, and, of course,
Here are the books I’ve been reading, with short summaries and deals for you.
Believing Christ: the Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News, by Stephen E. Robinson: “The great secret is this: Jesus Christ will share his perfection, his sinlessness, his righteousness, his merits with us. In his mercy he offers us the use of his perfection, in the absence of our own, to satisfy the demands of justice.” This explanation of Christ’s Atonement is what this whole book is about. It is an exploration of each element of that explanation in 124 pages.
And the crux of it, the reason for providing this explanation, says Robinson, is because a lot of us don’t believe Christ. We may believe in Him, but we don’t realize that it’s okay for us to have shortcomings, as long as we understand the true nature of the partnership we are in with him, and to work with Christ so that he can make us into celestial material. This explanation, and the comfort it provided, was very timely for me. I’m in a spot in life where I’m definitely feeling like I’m doing all I can and more, and it’s still not enough to hold my marriage together. After reading this, I think I understand what it really means to rely on Christ, while still striving to be the best person I can possibly be. This speaks peace (and a little bit of hope) to my soul.
An Unlikely Match, by Sarah M. Eden: What can I say about this book? Regency? Love it. Romance? Love it. Ghosts? Even better, especially in the hands of Sarah Eden. Loved Nicholas Pritchard and his easy-going nature. Loved the setting. Everything about it was great.
Pride, by Ibi Zoboi: A Pride and Prejudice retelling, set in modern-day Brooklyn with a black cast. The writing was excellent: immersive, fresh, and flavored. Characters were satisfyingly real and true to form, with the addition of Madrina, the main character’s neighbor/mentor/surrogate grandmother/spiritual and cultural icon. She added a facet to the story that wasn’t really in the original one, and definitely made this version unique. Readers familiar with the story might begrudge the predictability of this version, but it’s told with enough variation to make it quite interesting. But because the vivid style, the setting can be fascinating and/or abrasive. The reader is in the main character’s “hard-knock” life with her. She didn’t seem to be anywhere in the ballpark of her version of Mr. Darcy, which was also different from the original. It’s $12.59, down from $17.99, on Amazon.
Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and How You Can Make Yours Last, by John M. Gottman. John Gottman so knows what he’s talking about when it comes to marriages. If you’re in one and want to stay in one, get this book. It’s $3.79 through Thriftbooks.
Immortal Creators, by Jill Bowers. The premise of this book is that the contents of certain books cross over into reality, and their authors become Immortal Writers. The book that Scott Beck wrote about a megalomaniacal alien race coming to invade Earth has come to life, but Scott has no desire to fight them, or write whatever needs to be written to prevent them from attacking Earth, but he doesn’t appear to have a choice. Until a strange sickness befalls him…. While I enjoyed this book, I felt like I was “dumped on the front porch of the strangeness” of the plot, instead of being led into it, as Orson Scott Card instructs in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. It would have been stronger if Scott’s introduction into the world of Immortal Writers had been slower or if more he would’ve had more flashbacks that enabled me to relate to him more.
Magicians Impossible, by Brad Abraham. I may have mentioned this one before. It’s Mission Impossible meets Harry Potter, fast-paced, intricately-plotted, and magical. Holy cow! It’s $4.48 on Betterworldbooks.com.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman. He is a master storyteller, and this fantasy–told with a literary bent–is charming with bits of sinisterness around the edges. It’s $3.79 through Thriftbooks.com.
Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson. The premise is that humankind has been almost driven to extinction and what few groups are left are hiding out in the caves of a faraway planet that is surrounded by an atmosphere of debris. They’re frequently attacked by an alien race. Spensa, the main character, is a young girl whose father was a pilot fighter in the decades-long battle with that race. He turned “coward” and died, and now she’s fighting to become the best fighter pilot of the human race now, to redeem him and get some kind of revenge, with the help of a talking, sarcastic, smart, and totally secret spaceship. It was hard to relate to Spensa for quite a bit, as brash and immature as she started out being, but her progress from that to a more mature, smarter, more aware and friendly person was a beautiful thing to behold. I’ll definitely be getting the sequel to this book. You can get a signed, hardcover, new edition for $13.85 from Barnes & Noble. Dude! I’m tempted to go get me another copy there just for the autograph!
Life has been tough for me lately! I can’t go into detail because my struggles involve someone I love whose struggles run deeper than mine and I don’t have his permission to share, but it’s made it a little hard to keep on schedule with posting. When times are tough, it helps—nay, is necessary—to be thankful for the good things in my life, and I encourage you to do the same. Here are 10 books that can help you with that, all of which I’ve read, recommend, and found deals on…and suggestions for what they might make you grateful for.
Ten Perspective-Giving Books, and Their Deals
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen
Can make you grateful for: access to a good education
Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Teacombines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Can make you grateful for: not having the drama of being single
Summary, from Goodreads:
Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.
Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen; or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
Psychologist John Gottman has spent twenty years studying what makes a marriage last. Now you can use his tested methods to evaluate, strengthen, and maintain your own long-term relationship. This breakthrough book guides you through a series of self-tests designed to help you determine what kind of marriage you have, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and what specific actions you can take to help your marriage.
You’ll also learn that more sex doesn’t necessarily improve a marriage, frequent arguing will not lead to divorce, financial problems do not always spell trouble in a relationship, wives who make sour facial expressions when their husbands talk are likely to be separated within four years and there is a reason husbands withdraw from arguments—and there’s a way around it.
Dr. Gottman teaches you how to recognize attitudes that doom a marriage—contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling—and provides practical exercises, quizzes, tips, and techniques that will help you understand and make the most of your relationship. You can avoid patterns that lead to divorce, and—Why Marriages Succeed or Fail will show you how.
Summary, from Barnes & Noble: More amazing than any work of fiction, yet true in every word, it swept to the top of the bestseller lists and riveted the consciousness of the world. As an Emmy Award-winning film starring Sally Field, it captured the home screens of an entire nation and has endured as the most electrifying TV movie ever made. It’s the story of a survivor of terrifying childhood abuse, victim of sudden and mystifying blackouts, and the first case of multiple personality ever to be psychoanalyzed.
You’re about to meet Sybil-and the sixteen selves to whom she played host, both women and men, each with a different personality, speech pattern, and even personal appearance. You’ll experience the strangeness and fascination of one woman’s rare affliction-and travel with her on her long, ultimately triumphant journey back to wholeness.
Can make you grateful that: the nations of the world haven’t fumigated the earth with nuclear bombs and left behind only pockets of civilization surviving in craters forever lidded with dense, radioactive clouds.
Summary, from Goodreads:
Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.
But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in—than fail at yet another invention.
When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help. For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets Hope into trouble might just save them all.
Can make you grateful that: aliens haven’t besieged Planet Earth with four waves of pandemics on a scale the globe has never seen before, and are now inflicting the fifth wave, which makes you lose everyone in your family except your little brother, who gets kidnapped by the aliens.
Summary, from Goodreads:
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
For Elspeth Gordie freedom is-like so much else after the Great White-a memory. It was a time known as the Age of Chaos. In a final explosive flash everything was destroyed. The few who survived banded together and formed a Council for protection. But people like Elspeth-mysteriously born with powerful mental abilities-are feared by the Council and hunted down like animals…to be destroyed. Her only hope for survival to is keep her power hidden. But is secrecy enough against the terrible power of the Council?
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls that surround them is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying. Remember. Survive. Run.
I have no trouble admitting that I very much hesitated to write this review of The Cyber Effect by Mary Aiken. It’s a non-fiction explanation of how much human behavior changes online, by a cyberpsychologist. It is a thorough examination of the internet as a relatively new and expanding space, and a very depressing one at that. As a book, it fulfills the parameters of its title, and is technically sound and structured. Its sources are credible and robust. But, as a description of the human race, it leaves much to be desired. And to the extent that it describes in great detail the many evil uses to which the internet has been put, one might expect that, in the interest of balanced science, it would also describe its positive uses as well, or at least its possible positive uses. But in that, one is disappointed. It is a dire read of internet psychology.
What Is The Cyber Effect About?
“Technology is not good or bad in its own right,” says the author. “It is neutral and simply mediates behavior, which means it can be used well or poorly by humankind.” Given that introduction, one would indeed expect, or at least hope for an examination of both the ways it has so far been used “well” and the ways it has been used “poorly” by humankind. Instead, it describes only how the internet has caused an explosion in the normalization of fetishes, addictions, and cases of hypochondria. “You don’t have to be an expert in the subject of online behavior to have observed that something about cyberspace provokes people to be more adventurous.” And, “once behavior mutates in cyberspace, where a significant number of people participate, it can double back around and become a norm in everyday life. This means that the implications of the online experience and environment are ever evolving and profound, and impact us all–no matter where we live or spend.”
While knowledge about the proliferation of humankind’s evils as facilitated by technology and the internet is helpful in combating it, so is knowledge of healthy life practices, especially those proliferated by the internet. A whole chapter is spent documenting the necessity of nursing mothers looking at their babies’ faces while nursing, as opposed to their screens, for example, based on the author’s anecdotal experience of watching one mother looking at her screen instead of her baby’s face while nursing. A balanced perspective would have included a listing of any studies that have been done documenting how many mothers do in fact look at their babies versus how many look at their screens.
Can Balance Be Found?
Along those same lines, many pages are devoted to the ways and reasons why a boy or girl with any kind of an ADD or depression diagnosis will most likely become addicted to online gaming. While parents of those children, like me (my oldest son has ADD), are aware of that possibility, they may not be aware of the positive effects of video games, as described in Jennifer Comet Wagner’s The Gamer Generation: Reaping the Benefits of Video Gamesor in various studies cited by TIME magazine in its analysis of the Cognitive Benefits of Video Games. This is not to say that a knowledge of the very possible, very negative implications of over-involvement in cyberspace is not important, but by its very existence and by the author’s own admission, too deep a knowledge of such things can be an evil in and of itself.
One could easily argue, as many have done, that any call to balance the debate about the overall value of the internet, and technology in general, is a call to ignore its more ghastly applications, to live in gleeful and willful ignorance. That is not what I advocate by providing this negative view of The Cyber Effect. While I know that humankind can indeed be depraved, and that the internet has definitely exacerbated that tendency, I have, perhaps, knowledge of some of the more practical and positive uses of technology, having interviewed many wonderful women who’ve done so for MomItForward.com.
Who Should (Or Shouldn’t) Read The Cyber Effect?
I would say that all parents should read it, but only if they make it part of a larger and more focused study of the effects of internet use on their kids. I’m reluctant to review any book negatively because I know the great amount of work that goes into writing them. But it is not the book itself with which I take umbrage; it is its subject matter, its fatalistic view of humankind as defined by its use of the internet. No viable alternatives or positive steps are really given, other than those suggested by a listing of other countries’ approaches to cyberspace regulation. Those alternatives are called for, though: “We need to do more for families, and stop expecting parents to paddle their own canoes in cyberspace,” for one. “We need to start funding law enforcement better, so it can do its job in cyberspace. More resources are needed, and more teams need to be trained in this work. Academics and scientists need to be more flexible and responsive. We should bring together a large, diverse team of people to discuss and brainstorm about how best to redesign [the internet].” A much more in-depth discussion of these possibilities would have balanced out the book greatly.
Note: I received a free ARC of the book through NetGalley. All opinions provided herein are my own. Also, this post contains an affiliate link, which means I earn a small commission if you click through to purchase a copy of the book.