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I never thought of it that way:

How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations

in Dangerously Divided Times

by Monica Guzman

After finishing this book in February of 2023, I wrote,

 

"Although Monica never fundamentally questions the idea of the HOGAB, she provides some excellent ways of thinking to begin to break down the walls of that house, especially when it comes to creating understanding and compassion between people of differing politically persuasions within the United States."

 

My clippings below collapse a 287-page book into 14 pages, measured by using 12-point type in Microsoft Word. 

See all my book recommendations.  

Here are the selections I made:

Introduction

Page xxv · Location 329

What is keeping us from seeing each other , and how do we get it ( the hell ) out of our way ?

Page xxv · Location 338

In Part I , SOS , we’ll confront these dynamics — sorting , othering , and siloing — and explore a powerful way to overcome them .

Page xxv · Location 341

In Part II , Curiosity , we’ll learn how to notice and fill the gaps in our understanding by unleashing our curiosity in the context where it’s most powerful — conversation

Page xxvi · Location 351

Finally , we see people by getting their meaning right . In Part V , Honesty , I’ll show you how to prioritize candor and clarity in your conversations so thoroughly that not even the most charged political trigger words can knock you off course .

Part I: SOS

Page 2 · Location 385

Split up into steps , the patterns above go like this : • We get together into groups . We’ll call this sorting . • We push off against groups that seem opposed to us . We’ll call this othering . • We sink deeper into our groups and our stories , where it’s harder to hear anything else . We’ll call this siloing .

Page 2 · Location 395

But there’s just no question that sorting , othering , and siloing are an SOS . A call for help . They’re blinding us to each other’s perspectives , turning our neighbors , friends , and relatives into fools and monsters , and cranking up the volume way too high on what is already a cacophony of information that drowns out so much else .

1: Sorting > Page 6 · Location 447

“ I am because we are , ” goes the Ubuntu proverb . We crave community and connection . Sorting makes it easy . How could that possibly be bad ?

1: Sorting > Page 12 · Location 557

There’s a famous story in the business world about Alfred P . Sloan , the CEO of General Motors . “ I take it we’re all in complete agreement on the decision here , ” Sloan once said , looking around a conference table at the members of one of his top committees . Everyone looked back and nodded . “ Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting , ” he continued , “ to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain understanding of what the decision is all about . ”

1: Sorting > Page 12 · Location 563

He was asking them to look longer and harder at something they weren’t really seeing . That’s what happens when you’re surrounded by people who share your gut instincts : You end up sharing your blind spots , too . And when the whole group has the same blind spots ? You’ll amp up each other’s ignorance and make bad decisions even more spectacularly together than each of you would have apart .

2: Othering > Page 17 · Location 607

Can there be an us without a them ?

2: Othering > Page 17 · Location 613

Othering is about opposition . Wariness . Suspicion . It ranges from relatively harmless othering — drawing group boundaries , if you will — to hateful and deadly . From real subtle , like giving the side - eye to the group of loudmouths at the house party , to real explicit : xenophobia , genocide , all the biggest sins of humanity .

2: Othering > Page 18 · Location 622

And boy do we feel threatened . By politics ? Sure . More than half of Americans felt at least somewhat anxious about “ the impact of politics on my daily life ” in 2018 , and a month before the 2020 election , nine out of ten registered voters , from both parties , thought a win by the other side would do “ lasting harm ” to our country .

2: Othering > Page 19 · Location 631

But here’s the thing : Too often , othering makes monsters of good people . It makes hate easier and reasonableness harder .

2: Othering > Page 19 · Location 633

Once we have an us , we’re pretty hardwired to find a them — and we suspend our goodwill and even our good sense in the process

2: Othering > Page 24 · Location 734

No us can see a them clearly .

2: Othering > Page 26 · Location 762

In a 2018 study that made my jaw hit the floor , Americans thought that a third of Democrats were gay , lesbian , or bisexual when just 6 percent are , and that four out of ten Republicans earn more than $ 250,000 in a year ( that’s a quarter - million dollars , folks ! ) when only 2 percent actually do . If this sounds extreme , that’s because it is — and so is the othering that flows from it .

2: Othering > Page 30 · Location 837

Can there be an us without a them ? There are reasons to believe that the divisions pulling us apart are too big , too charged , too justified to step out of , even for a moment . But if we stay with these divisions and the distance they create , we’re that much more vulnerable to the excesses of othering . The vilification . The blindness . The kind of abject , cold dismissal that makes people hide who they really are just to make it , the way Tajfel hid that he was Jewish just to survive . Othering goes too far when it tricks us into shrinking our world instead of expanding it . When we focus so much on the righteousness of our side , we stop thinking straight , we stop seeing straight , and we lose the ability to truly consider what’s different .

2: Othering > Page 30 · Location 845

That takes stepping outside of the us versus them . And scrambling out of the holes we sink into when we’re surrounded not just by people who are like us but by all the stories they tell . Our silos .

3: Siloing > Page 32 · Location 867

If sorting is about the people you see and othering is about the people you don’t see , siloing is about the stories you see and don’t see as a result .

3: Siloing > Page 38 · Location 977

Only that “ people who said they read the news ‘ most of the time ’ were nearly three times more distorted in their perceptions than those who said they read the news ‘ only now and then . ’ ”

3: Siloing > Page 43 · Location 1064

Understanding people who hold opposing political beliefs is hard enough when you rarely meet anyone like that ( sorting ) , harder when they’re a them to your us ( othering ) , and harder still when the stories that surround you give you little if any reason to take even small , slow steps in their direction ( siloing ) .

Part II: Curiosity

Page 49 · Location 1136

Curiosity

Page 49 · Location 1137

If there’s one question I want to persuade you to ask more often , it’s “ What am I missing ? ”

Page 50 · Location 1155

To keep our minds open when so much pushes them closed we’re going to have to kick it old - school . We’re going to have to talk — really talk — with actual different people . This is the work . The resistance . This is how we push back against the patterns of SOS , inviting fresh insights to crack the walls of our silos and flood in .

4: Perspective > Page 55 · Location 1215

Asking “ What am I missing ? ” is the first step . It’s that doorstop against cognitive closure that comes too early , that hasn’t gotten close enough to know enough at all .

4: Perspective > Page 56 · Location 1230

The trick , then , is to scoop it up and add it up . To leave our harbor and learn from each other about each other for each other’s own sake .

4: Perspective > Page 58 · Location 1266

INTOIT moments can strike anywhere — in conversation , while reading an article or book , even way after the idea first crashed into your brain , after you’ve had time to process . Regardless of the source , you can sort INTOIT moments into two groups by asking a question : Did the moment strengthen my idea or challenge it ?

4: Perspective > Page 58 · Location 1268

Just for fun , I asked several of my more curious friends to tune their internal radar for when “ I never thought of it that way ” moments had come to them . It took a little explaining at first . You want me to do what now ? But they agreed , and together we collected dozens of INTOIT moments , intersections between perspectives where meaning was made for each of them in a kind of mental chemical reaction .

4: Perspective > Page 58 · Location 1275

INTOIT moments that challenge our ideas , bridging us to a perspective we were not already leaning toward , are rarer . They’re surprising — and sometimes uncomfortable .

5: Friction > Page 63 · Location 1347

Mind the gap 2 . Collect knowledge 3 . Reject easy answers 4 . Embrace complexity You ready ? Let’s go .

5: Friction > Page 63 · Location 1351

STEP 1 : MIND THE GAP Curiosity is one of the urges and drives of life . When you’re hungry , you need to eat . When you’re thirsty , you need to drink . When you’re curious , you need to know .

5: Friction > Page 69 · Location 1473

As the legendary broadcast journalist Edward R . Murrow once quipped , “ Anyone who isn’t confused doesn’t really understand the situation . ”

5: Friction > Page 70 · Location 1492

In a lot of ways , confusion is just complexity before you put curiosity to work .

7: Traction > Page 84 · Location 1682

Bring this to your next conversation or prospective conversation , and these dials — time , attention , parity , containment , and embodiment — will help you figure out if you can bridge divides productively .

7: Traction > Page 85 · Location 1693

The second dial on your console is attention . We are a generation of shameless multitaskers , so it’s always worth asking : How much of your attention is on the conversation you’re having ,

7: Traction > Page 85 · Location 1698

Next up is parity .

7: Traction > Page 85 · Location 1701

You have to be on level ground with others in a conversation for it to do meaningful work for all of you , sharing equal status and at least a chance at equal speaking time .

7: Traction > Page 85 · Location 1705

The fourth dial is containment , and it’s the one I wish more of us would give a damn about . When digital platforms display our conversations to huge groups of people , those conversations become as much or more about performing our perspectives than exploring them . That can really clobber curiosity , and I can’t stress this enough .

7: Traction > Page 86 · Location 1713

Finally , we have embodiment . That includes your gestures , your facial expressions , your volume , pace and tone , everything biology synced up with your mind to help you get your meaning into the world .

7: Traction > Page 87 · Location 1725

What kind of time do people have to let this conversation grow ? • How much attention can we practically commit to it ? • How possible is it for everyone who’s talking to meet on level ground , so we can ask and answer questions evenhandedly ? • To what degree is this conversation contained to only us ? If we have an audience , how likely is it that we will want to perform at the expense of connecting with each other ? • How much of our full , embodied complement of communication tools can we bring to help us get our meaning across ?

Part III: People

8: Assumptions > Page 102 · Location 1928

My vote against the candidate I despise is a vote for things that feel absolutely good and important . 2 . A vote for the candidate I despise must be a vote against these good and important things . 3 . Anyone who votes for the candidate I despise must be against good and important things . 4 . Anyone who votes for this candidate must be a bad person .

8: Assumptions > Page 104 · Location 1955

People aren’t puzzles ; they’re mysteries . What’s the difference ? “ Puzzles are orderly . They have a beginning and an end . Once the missing information is found , they’re not a puzzle anymore , ” Leslie writes . “ Mysteries are murkier , less neat . Progress can be made toward them by gathering knowledge and identifying the most important factors , but they don’t offer the satisfaction of definite solutions . ”

8: Assumptions > Page 104 · Location 1958

We look for puzzle - piece answers to the mystery of people , but they don’t exist . So what we find , instead , are assumptions : guesses that look like knowledge , hiding gaps in our understanding and soothing us with certainty while we make the biggest assumption of all : that we can solve a mystery from a distance .

8: Assumptions > Page 105 · Location 1971

Several of them told us how hard that was in practice . They were siloed in Seattle : How do you get curious about other views , they wrote us , when you don’t know anyone who holds them ?

8: Assumptions > Page 114 · Location 2124

The problem isn’t the partial answers we’re always collecting from a variety of sources in our busy lives . It’s the questions we stop asking because we think we’ve learned enough .

8: Assumptions > Page 118 · Location 2198

You can’t fire your Assumption Assistant . You can’t even give them the day off . They’re a part of you , and hey — a lot of times , you need them . But you can choose not to pay too much attention to what they say . Or rather , to the certainty of what they say . Treat their assumptions as questions , and your assistant will get quiet while you get curious .

8: Assumptions > Page 118 · Location 2201

People are mysteries , not puzzles . This means we can never be sure about them . But we can always be curious .

9: Reason > Page 121 · Location 2256

Your best reasoning skills will get you kudos in your own silos and not much else .

9: Reason > Page 121 · Location 2263

For instance , one community newspaper in Washington , the Issaquah Reporter , has lately added a disclaimer beneath all its articles online : “ In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world , we’ve closed comments on our websites . ”

9: Reason > Page 122 · Location 2266

Buddhists sensed it 2,500 years ago as clearly as we sense it now : when we insist on our own perspective , we leave no room for others , believing that the framework we put around things is the only valid one there is .

9: Reason > Page 123 · Location 2290

So if you think the other side is devoid of logic , “ facts , ” or good faith argument , you might be right : some beliefs are just plain deviant and some believers are just plain trolls . But it’s far , far more likely , I’ve found , that you’re buried a little too deep in your silo to see why their arguments , from their perspective , do at least make sense .

9: Reason > Page 125 · Location 2325

A lot of our discourse happens on the internet , a nonplace that makes us into nonpeople . Our words show up , but not our bodies , rarely our faces , and certainly not our full roster of interactions , expressions , hesitations , and tone .

10: Opinion > Page 134 · Location 2472

The first is , “ Are you willing to believe that you are wrong about something ? ”

10: Opinion > Page 134 · Location 2475

But there’s a problem : we don’t know what we’re wrong about . “ That simple observation , ‘ I’m wrong , I just don’t know what about ! ’ should produce some humility , ” David Smith said . “ Some willingness to listen . ”

10: Opinion > Page 134 · Location 2477

David then asked his second question : “ Which do you value more : the truth or your own beliefs ?

10: Opinion > Page 134 · Location 2479

Cause they’re not synonymous , ” he told the class . “ If I’m wrong about some things — my beliefs about everything all put together — my beliefs are not synonymous with the truth . If I value my own beliefs more than the truth , I’m going to defend myself to the death . And why would I listen to you ? ”

10: Opinion > Page 139 · Location 2570

For years I’ve been reflecting on what respect ultimately is , whether we can agree on its basic criteria , and the extent to which it’s even possible to disagree passionately , honestly , and firmly , but also respectfully

10: Opinion > Page 140 · Location 2588

We shouldn’t focus on understanding , rather than winning , just because it’s smarter . It’s also the only approach that values other people as people by giving them the space to be who they are .

10: Opinion > Page 140 · Location 2589

You can’t get traction with a mind you’re trying to defeat . Uncertainty that searches for truth gets there faster than certainty that asserts it .

Part IV: Paths

11: Experiences > Page 156 · Location 2859

But “ a map is not the territory it represents , ” as Polish - American philosopher Alfred Korzybski famously put it .

11: Experiences > Page 157 · Location 2876

The shortest distance between two people , ” said the celebrated Chicago Black youth advocate and entrepreneur Darius Ballinger , “ is a story . ”

11: Experiences > Page 162 · Location 2963

Ask “ How did you come to believe X ? ” 2 . Explain yourself with story 3 . Pull on examples and details 4 . Acknowledge intersections 5 . Speak for yourself 6 . Share the storytelling role

12: Values > Page 166 · Location 3034

This is why when someone from Seattle asks me why the pair of Mexican immigrants who gave me life voted for Trump , I tell them . For all I know , I might be the only person someone knows who’s both close to far - right voters and admits to getting along with them . And if I am , I want to get those who ask past the cartoon villainy . I want to challenge their assumptions and complicate their certainty . I want to give them a peek at what they can’t see .

12: Values > Page 168 · Location 3066

After conducting research in eighty - two countries , Schwartz had the data to back up a pretty amazing claim : There aren’t an infinite number of human values out there . There are only ten : stimulation , hedonism , achievement , power , benevolence , universalism , security , conformity , tradition , and self - direction .

12: Values > Page 169 · Location 3070

According to what’s known as the Schwartz Theory of Basic Human Values , values become “ infused with feeling ” when activated — something any of us can see as soon as certain principles come into a conversation , like being fair ( universalism ) , staying safe ( security ) , and living free ( self - direction ) .

12: Values > Page 169 · Location 3072

But his most fascinating claim is about how values motivate our behavior : what matters isn’t which values each of us holds , but their relative order of importance .

12: Values > Page 171 · Location 3104

And that’s how each of them will miss truly seeing the other : they will mistake a different ordering of values for an absence of the ones that they think matter most .

12: Values > Page 171 · Location 3108

This values bias blocks curiosity . To fix that , we have to stop assuming that people who disagree with us don’t value what we value . Instead , we have to redirect our curiosity toward a critical question : What do they value more ?

12: Values > Page 182 · Location 3274

Because we stack our values in different ways , and if we’re going to stay curious in our bridging conversations , we need to change our driving question from “ Why don’t you care ? ” to “ What do you care about more ? ”

13: Attachments > Page 193 · Location 3458

This leads to another one of my all - time favorite questions to ask anyone steeped in assurance about their own position , especially when they’ve just criticized the other side : “ What’s your most generous interpretation of why they disagree with you ? ”

13: Attachments > Page 193 · Location 3461

But then I just double down on the question : “ No , really . This wouldn’t be controversial if there wasn’t some reason they thought their position was ultimately good . What do you think that reason is ? ”

Part V: Honesty

14: Clarity > Page 201 · Location 3544

The first two prompts are dead simple , and extremely important for the task of getting people’s meaning right : • Tell me about a problem you’re having in your life . • Tell me everything I need to know to fully understand the problem .

14: Clarity > Page 201 · Location 3551

We’ll know we have enough clarity , we were told , only when the person answering our prompts can listen to our evolving summary of their problem and say , “ Yes , exactly ! ”

14: Clarity > Page 201 · Location 3561

But if it had been about tackling more divisive issues , you can imagine the two prompts reading a bit differently . Maybe like this : • Tell me about an issue you care about . • Tell me everything I need to know to fully understand your take on the issue .

14: Clarity > Page 202 · Location 3568

There’s a deeper purpose here : When you show people that you want to get their meaning right , you’re listening at a level they’re not used to . That will not only fuel your curiosity but supercharge the conversation’s ability to form a bond between everyone in it .

14: Clarity > Page 203 · Location 3591

“ Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying . . . ” or “ Can I repeat that back to you just so I know I’ve got it ? ”

14: Clarity > Page 203 · Location 3592

Then , once you’ve taken your best shot at summarizing their meaning , you pull to confirm : “ Did I get that right ? ” or “ Am I missing anything ? ”

14: Clarity > Page 208 · Location 3693

Listen for words where you’re unclear on the speaker’s meaning , then pull the conversation back , slowing it down to clear things up . “ When I hear the term X , I think of Y . When you say it , do you mean something different ? ”

14: Clarity > Page 210 · Location 3728

a couple additional prompts that went deeper than I’d ever seen at a business conference , including “ Tell me who you pretend to be that you’re not ” and “ Tell me what’s good about pretending . ”

15: Openness > Page 214 · Location 3794

After several seconds , I put my notebook and pencil down and say , “ Feel free to think out loud if you like . I won’t hold you to it . Just let me know when you think you’ve gotten where you want to go . ” I see them relax , breathe , and go one level deeper with me . When I pick my notebook and pencil back up again , they’re digging what they have to say , and so am I . Set a conversational tone where they can shape and edit their thoughts in real time with you , and not be so scared of messing up .

15: Openness > Page 216 · Location 3825

Speaking of not treating a conversation like a performance : the more public the conversation , the less honest the people in it can be .

15: Openness > Page 219 · Location 3880

“ That’s how you avoid arrogance , ” Peter Meyers of Stand and Deliver told me . “ With curiosity . ”

15: Openness > Page 223 · Location 3956

I’ve seen it over and over again since . It’s yet another version of the “ throw the flag ” principle , with a gutsy twist : “ I’m not comfortable with this conversation ” can be a great thing to offer when any conversation loses its way .

15: Openness > Page 225 · Location 3992

The main test of a good question , for the purposes of crossing the big divides in our world , is whether it leads to better understanding between people . In a big way or a small way . That’s it . A bad question gets you away from understanding by costing you traction , compromising trust and goodwill .

15: Openness > Page 226 · Location 3999

Only you can know when a question is a good question . But to give you a little guidance , here are four characteristics I’ve learned make for not only better questions , but much more fulfilling conversations . I call it the CARE check : if your question is curious , answerable , raw , and exploring , you’re on the right track .

15: Openness > Page 226 · Location 4005

Some questions are driven by other goals . Among them : making a statement , stumping or cornering someone , deflecting attention , making an accusation , seeking affirmation , baiting a confession .

15: Openness > Page 226 · Location 4006

Watch enough high - profile exchanges on TV or the internet and you’ll run into so - called gotcha questions . These are not curious questions . They’re questions meant to put pressure on someone to hold them to some judgment , responsibility , or challenge .

15: Openness > Page 227 · Location 4017

Ask someone a question you know they can’t answer in the moment and you’re not really asking a question at all .

15: Openness > Page 228 · Location 4034

But questions are most powerful when they’re raw — when nothing else is baked in . Raw questions don’t try to get a two - for - one deal : If you want to share your opinion — cool — share it in a statement ! But if you want your curiosity to do its best work for you , it’s more productive to ask questions that prompt answers , not an objection or defense .

15: Openness > Page 230 · Location 4076

Exploring Curiosity needs you to not know . But then here comes certainty , beckoning from every corner , offering cognitive closure , a resolution , an easy answer , an escape .

15: Openness > Page 231 · Location 4082

A question that pushes people toward certain answers is often called a leading question . Think about the difference between “ What’s your take on background checks for buying guns ? ” and “ You don’t think there ought to be more background checks , do you ? ”

Epilogue: No One Is Beyond Understanding

Page 233 · Location 4108

So it was strange and unnerving when a friend invited me to make signs at her house for the next day’s 2017 Seattle Women’s March , which I would cover for The Evergrey . I said no . . . then called back and said yes .

Page 234 · Location 4119

I carried my sign in the January sun in a street - soaking sea of political slogans , surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people’s own frustration , courage , and hope . The three simple words on it got odd looks . They seemed out of place in an angry , anxious time , but I believe to my core that they weren’t then and aren’t now .

Page 234 · Location 4125

The three words stared at me as I stared at the blank uncertainty of these pages , attempting to fill them with whatever questions and tools and stories might flesh out their promise , if we can hold them up as high as our perspectives and our pride : “ Honesty , curiosity , respect . ”

Page 236 · Location 4151

Whatever you do to reclaim curiosity , I want to hear about it and help you along ! You can reach me via email at moni @ reclaimcuriosity.com , on Twitter @ moniguzman , or plug in to a whole new curious community by signing up for my newsletter at bit.ly / reclaimcuriosity .

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