If I know you–and I think I do–you’re nervous or scared about how things are going in the world and in the U.S., with the pandemic, racism protests, and other problems. You’re tired because you’ve either had to hunker down at home with your kids, becoming their co-teacher, or keep going to a job at a place that looks quite different from what it did before Covid-19 hit. You’re uncertain about sending your kids to school in the fall. You have strong feelings about whether or not you should have to wear a mask. You’re anxious for things to settle down, and have a general sense that things need to change, but have very little hope that things actually will change, at least in the near future. Even if they did start changing sooner rather than later, you probably don’t think you’d play much of a role in that change, at least in part because you’ve already got your hands full with Life.
What if I told you that you’re not the only one that feels that way, but that you can do more than you think to spark change in whatever realm you feel most needs change? Whether it’s the chaotic response to Covid-19 in the U.S., police brutality, gun reform, climate change, racism, immigration, abortion, or another polarizing issue, there is something you can do, and you don’t have to become a 24/7 activist to do it. And chances are that there’s a book that can help you on your way.
In fact, here are a few recommendations to help you. The first group are books that can help you understand how important your voice is in this whole, complicated world. The subsequent groups are books that list ideas for basic things you can do (instead of just sitting around and worrying) about certain issues. My criteria for inclusion on this list was that these books:
- are in plain English, as opposed to academic-ese
- are action-oriented, as opposed to just saying how horrible any given thing is or just exploring the history of a particular issue
- list practical ideas for things that can actually be done
- are healing-oriented and/or positive
In these lists, you’ll find some information about each book, as well as best quotes and deals.
Books About Why Your Voice is Needed
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
This is a self-help book of the best kind not only for the individual, but for society as a whole. One that is sorely needed, I might add. Brown’s definition of the wilderness as a metaphorical place where “belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone…[in] an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching…,” is one that can only be understood in the context of the rest of humanity: one cannot stand alone without a group of “others” to stand away from. This book is an explanation of how very much we all need one another, and to feel like we truly belong, and how sometimes, in order to get that feeling, ironically, we have to let it go.
It is, at its core, a call to be brave as we are, imperfections and all, in bringing people together.
Braving the Wilderness Best Quote
Braving the Wilderness Best Deal
$6.45 through Goodwill Monocacy on Amazon. Everywhere else, it was $11 or more, much more!
In this post about the reasons and methods behind having civil conversations in this contemptuous time, I said: “One of the cornerstones of true happiness is connection, according to Brene Brown in Daring Greatly…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.’” Daring Greatly, another thoroughly awesome book by Brene Brown, expands on the daring part of stepping out into the wilderness, based in part on this quote by Theodore Roosevelt:
Of those retailers that actually have it in stock, Amazon has new paperbacks for $9.39.
Despite all the technologies that enable us to be more connected than ever, we are arguably more disconnected than ever. This book, which I’ve mentioned before, strives to define what “community” really is, what “belonging” really is, then goes about making a case for its importance. Though it really offers no practical tips for strengthening community (and doesn’t, therefore, meet all of my criteria), it does make a compelling case for community. It might even make you yearn for it.
Unfriended Best Quote
Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks
Another book I’ve previously mentioned, Love Your Enemies is an eloquent reminder that our enemies are never so much enemies as they are fellow humans, no matter how vitriolic they sound or hurtful they can be. “The secret to healing our nation,” he says, “has to be related to the way we heal our relationships with each other.” It’s a guidebook that steers past regaining civility towards each other straight toward love, a goal that might seem impossible these days if it weren’t so necessary.
How to Listen and Be Heard
“Too often,” says Alissa Carpenter, the author of this book, “people avoid difficult conversations; but these discussions often need to happen to bring people together so we can all succeed.” This book is an easy-to-read guide to having inclusive conversations with others and learning how to “communicate across our differences, not through them.” It’s geared toward work settings, but I think its principles apply anywhere.
A Decent Life: Morality for the Rest of Us
Todd May asks some interesting questions: If we gave away everything we owned and devoted ourselves to good works, would it solve all the world’s problems? It probably wouldn’t, but because it would at least help, is that what we have to do? Is anything less a moral failure? Can we lead a fundamentally decent life without taking such drastic steps?
We all ask ourselves these questions to some extent, don’t we? In this book, he attempts some answers. He’s not the first to do so, nor will he be the last, but in his attempt, he gives an interesting, philosophical, and thoroughly researched rationale for a decently moral life. He explores answers to the question of what doing our best really means in light of everyday, lived experiences.
I don’t know about you, but I’m always trying to do my best and worrying that it’s not enough. These days, many might wonder if doing their best means nothing less than quitting their jobs to attend Black Lives Matter protests every day, giving all of their money to a New York City or Florida hospital, or running for a political office in the midst of a virulent, extremely contentious political environment where hardly anyone knows how to actually listen, communicate, and take constructive action. So May’s book is very salient right now.
For example, he says: “Political action…requires more than dissatisfaction. It requires hope.” In the Black Lives Matter movement, as in all social movements, dissatisfaction is definitely part of the process. It needs to be expressed and recognized. But in the political arena, as in all of our arenas–be they social, familial, or personal–dissatisfaction should be just the beginning of the process of change. Change cannot happen without hope, at the very least.
He also says: “In a society like ours where racism is woven into our everyday social relationships, common decency involves a recognition that those of other races (genders, sexual orientations, and so on) are fellow citizens and should be treated as such. A mentor of mine once said that in a country like ours we are all at best recovering racists.” We can all be better at seeing everyone with whom we share this democracy as fully human as we are.
He also brings up a really good point about confronting racism: “There are those who say that…we should always confront racism when it occurs, regardless of the character of the person expressing it. I’m not convinced of this. With an overt racist, such defensiveness is fine. The goal there is not to change the person but rather to fence off their ability to display their racism. By contrast, with someone who is unknowingly expressing a racist sentiment, making them defensive is less likely to encourage change than a sympathetic explanation in a more private venue. Recognizing that people of good will can also express racist sentiments–and so treating them also as people of good will–can go a long way toward encouraging personal reflection on their part.”
It’s not the most concise book, but it is helpful.
Of the many sites I checked, Amazon had the best deal: $12.24 for the audiobook version.
The list continues. I don’t want to overwhelm you, but there are a lot of good books on this!
I can’t state the importance of this book highly enough, even though I’ve tried in previous posts. I’d even go so far as to say that the authors of this book should be in charge of this country right now, because we have to have many crucial conversations, and they know how to make them happen.
Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
According to the authors of this book, 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
- accusatory, or
- vehemently opposed.
- 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? I think it depends on the “yes” we’re trying to get to.
$7.84 for a hardback from Amazon. You can get a used copy for .40 less, but it’ll be heavily used.
Books With Ideas for Things to do About Climate Change
There is No Planet B
If climate change is your thing, this is a good starting place to help you figure out what to do. “I think we can each have far more impact than most people assume,” says Berners-Lee, “but we need to get a lot smarter at understanding which kinds of things make a difference and which don’t.” This statement, made nearing the beginning of There is No Planet B, tidily encapsulates not only the reason for this book’s existence, but also my feelings on so many issues of our day. Bringing the very big issue of climate change into the limited laps of everyday people, it is, in many ways, a very helpful resource.
This is primarily due to its form, which is Q & A. It’s more than 130 questions that everyday people might ask about energy, travel, and other contributors to climate change, such as business and technology, and the answers to those questions. The questions are things like:
- What can I do to cut waste?
- How bad are fossil fuels really?
The answers are things like:
See above. Note how he says reading books conserves energy…
Books With Ideas for Things to Do About Gun Rights/Control
Common Ground: Talking About Gun Violence in America
It may seem like the Great American Gun Debate is one that will never be resolved, but if Donald Gaffney, a pastor and alumnus of Sandy Hook Elementary, can find a way to advocate for finding common ground as a starting point, who are we to say we can’t find it in our hearts to try to look for that common ground too?
Books With Ideas for Things to Do About Police Reform
Transforming the Police: 13 Key Reforms
Turns out that there are a lot of books out there about how bad the police are doing, but not many about how to fix it. This is one of those few. Given that I feel a great need to do what I can to both keep our communities safe and improve policing, but no idea about where to start, I figure reading this book is a starting point.
Everywhere I looked, this book started at around $26, so I rented it from Amazon for a month for $4.93.
Books With Ideas for Things to Do About Systemic Racism
This Book is Antiracist
As I mentioned here, and as it says on the cover: this book is all about how to “wake up, take action, and do the work.”
So, let’s hear your voice! Join with me in learning more about these issues and how to do something about them.