Of Course I'm Not Ok: Navigating Political Conversations (with Dr. Tania Israel) [EPISODE 7]

of course i'm not ok

Anyone else struggling with tense political conversation?! Worried that those conversations may cause the end to some cherished relationships? If so, you are not alone. 

In this week’s episode, Karen & Katie welcome Dr. Tania Israel, psychology professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara and author of the new book Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work. The trio have a lively discussion on strategies to employ when talking across political lines, best practices for allyship and how social media plays a part in today’s divisive political climate. Get ready to take notes – Dr. Israel is a ROCK STAR and shares loads of fabulous takeaways!

Resources from this episode: Dr. Israel’s book: Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work; Dr. Israel’s Twitter: @Tania_Israel; Dr. Israel’s website; Calm app

Follow us on Twitter & Instagram, and email us with questions/comments/concerns at notokpod@gmail.com. This episode is sponsored by Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. 

Keep in touch with co-hosts Karen Hawkins and Katie Morell on Twitter and Instagram.


Katie: Hi, I’m Katie Morrell. I’m a creative and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Karen: And I’m Karen Hawkins. I am the founder of Rebellious Magazine for Women and co editor-in-chief of the Chicago Reader.

Katie: You are listening to Of Course I’m Not Okay: An Audio Project. Join us as we talk about mental health coping with quarantine and what conversations we wish the world was having and isn’t.

Karen: Some of our episodes, we’ll chat with writers and creatives to get their take. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

Katie: Hey Karen, it’s great to see you.

Karen: Katie, it’s so good to see you. I’m so excited that you’re in a different room in your house this time. You’re mixing it up here.

Katie: We are really mixing it up. I am, this is now my third location. Usually I am sitting on my bed, and we have also been recording in the back of my Subaru, and now I am in a different room in my house that looks far more like an office. So I’m very happy to be seeing you and sitting at an actual desk. It’s an upgrade.

Karen: Uh, I gotta say the Subaru recording is one of my favorites. I just want to put that out there.

Katie: Yes, I might, there might be a, you know, we might do that again. Maybe. Like that, it was quite comfy. I really liked it. The air conditioning was really appreciated. I don’t have air conditioning in my house.

Karen: I remember listening-, oh, that’s right, cause you’re in San Francisco! Nobody has, in the San Francisco area, nobody has air conditioning.

Katie: Yes. And this week has been crazy because there have been super high temperatures and massive wildfires. And so our smoke, like our air quality index basically, is just not good news all the time. Right at this exact moment, it’s pretty good. But it kind of changes every hour. Like I just, you know, I saw a friend today and we went to, we were going to go to one place for lunch and then we had decided to go to a totally different place in the Bay Area for lunch, because it was dangerous with air quality. So it’s kind of crazy, but yes. But how are you doing?

Karen: I’m happy to be talking to you. I’m happy about our episode today. Yes. That’s where I’m at.

Katie: I am so happy about our episode today. And for listeners, we kind of did a little bit of a, you know, a reverse with this intro. So we just finished talking to the wonderful, the fabulous, the luminous, Dr. Tania Israel, who is a psychologist. She is a researcher out of the University of California in Santa Barbara. She just wrote a book about a topic that you and I have, you know, have a lot of feelings about, which is basically the idea of creating constructive conversations with people who don’t agree politically. And I think that the conversation was so much fun. I mean, she’s just an absolute rockstar. I’m so happy that she gave us her time because she’s amazing.

Karen: I know. And I, kudos to you for finding her and reaching out. And it’s something, yes, that we’ve been talking about because as you say in our intro, we both know people who are struggling with this issue and struggling with, as you said, fraying relationships. Like it’s not just, I feel like there was a point in time when you didn’t agree with somebody politically, and it’s just like, ‘We don’t agree. That’s all good.’ And now it’s like, ‘We don’t agree. I can’t have you in my life anymore.’ Like now we’re done.

Katie: Yes. And I think that there are people where they’re actually at that precipice right now. And it’s like, there are, I know I’m having conversations with people that have told me that, you know, they’re worried their parents or their sibling, or you know, someone in their life who is very, very close, their even sometimes significant others. It depends like, I’ve actually had people say to me that it depends on who wins the election and then maybe it will get better. Like they think that like, you know, whoever loses, maybe they’ll stop, you know, kind of having that intensity in terms of their conversations. And it’s just, it’s just, it’s a scary time in terms of that, because I think that’s my biggest concern with this entire, and the whole reason that, you know, I think we both agreed that we were so excited about this episode was that like, we’re, you know, it’s, it’s very sad to think that like the closest relationships in our lives could die off because of, you know, these types of things. So I think Dr. Israel has incredible insights and I’m just so excited for everybody to hear.

Karen: I loved our conversation and I loved so many of the things she had to say. And I will also admit that as you were talking about family dynamics and who’s going to win the election, I couldn’t help but get this feeling of glee watching the Kellyanne Conway family implosion. Like it’s terrible to like, enjoy that, but I’ve been enjoying it.

Katie: I don’t think that’s, you’re not wrong. You’re not wrong. I mean, I have been enjoying seeing the memes of Melania Trump leering at Ivanka Trump. That’s horrible. I mean, we’re talking about family implosions right here. It’s like, I mean. Yeah, no I’m with you. I’m with you-

Karen: And women!

Katie: And women. Exactly.

Karen: It makes me feel like, I don’t know if it makes me less of a feminist if the woman that I’m enjoying watching suffer is so terrible. I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s a question for another episode.

[musical interlude]

Katie: We are about to welcome onto Of Course I’m Not Okay: An Audio Project, Dr. Tania Israel. She is a professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and Social Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. And she’s the author of the new book ‘Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, [Skills] and Strategies for Conversations That Work‘ and that’s out this month. She’s also the director of an incredible organization called Project RISE. It’s a research team at UCSB that develops and studies interventions to support the psychological health of LBGTQ individuals and communities. Dr. Israel, Tania. It’s just so wonderful to have you here. Thank you for your time.

Dr. Israel: Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m really happy to be here.

Katie: Yeah. I just feel like this topic of how to bridge, really, relationships during this time of political unrest is just so incredibly important to so many people. And this is something that Karen and I have been talking a lot about lately. We both have personal experiences knowing people who are dealing with this and ourselves. And, you know, we kind of started this conversation about a week ago when a friend of mine, had a conversation with her father that was extremely inflammatory, where they don’t agree. And it just seemed like this is, it’s actually really concerning for, I think a lot of people who are worried about actually fraying their closest relationships. And so can you kind of tell us a little bit about what made you decide to write this book and kind of the process of that?

Dr. Israel: Sure. Well, that’s exactly why I decided to write this book because people are struggling so much. And after the 2016 election, it was clear that we had some divisions in our country and that people were having trouble connecting across that divide. And even more so I’m a psychologist, so I’m always concerned about, sort of, how it’s affecting people. And it was really-, and it is affecting people’s relationships with people they care about. It’s affecting our communities, our workplaces. And actually there’s a study that shows that our stress has increased because of the political discord in our country. And so I, you know, the work that I do, the research that I do is all about developing interventions. And so I always want to think about like, ‘What can I do to help? What can I create that will be helpful?’ And that’s really how this came about.

Karen: Thank you so much for writing this book on behalf of so many people. Thank you so much. So when did you decide to start and how long did this process take you? Was there anything about it that surprised you?

Dr. Israel: Well, I didn’t start out writing a book. I actually started, I wanted to create a resource. So I started by making something that I, sort of optimistically call ‘The Flow Chart That Will Resolve All Political Conflict In Our Country.’

Karen: That sounds amazing.

Dr. Israel: So, it was really something to try to help people think through their intentions about what they wanted to get out of these conversations and how to go about doing that, but *spoiler alert* it did not actually resolve all political conflict in our country. I’m so sorry to say. So there was something more than I needed to do. And what I was hearing people say was, we need to have these conversations, but I wasn’t hearing anyone say how we could do that. And so I developed a workshop, I created this two-hour skills building workshop to try to help people to develop the skills that I know from the research are useful in terms of having dialogue when there’s conflict going on. And so, a couple of hundred people went through the workshop and people were still asking for more resources. And so I was like, ‘Alright, I guess I have to write a book.’ And so, because I had done the workshop and really heard people’s response to that and seen, like what made sense to people, what I needed to explain, that made it so much easier to write the book and to figure out how to lay it out and everything. So I started this, you know, with the flow chart, like in probably March of 2017. And then I did the workshop and I did that for a year or two. And the actual writing of the book took me about a year to do, and then I got feedback from the publisher and I made some revisions, but because I did it in that kind of period of time, I think that the content is pretty current. I give a lot of examples of how to have these conversations and I use issues like healthcare and immigration and Black Lives Matter and environment things. That we are talking about a lot right now.

Katie: Wow. That’s incredible. Did you do, when you were actually putting the book together, did you use some of those workshop participants? Or did you use mostly like, you know, theory from psychology? Or like, how did you create these tips and tools for people to kind of take home? It sounds like it’s really almost a guidebook. Is that it? Would that be correct?

Dr. Israel: Yes. I mean, I wanted to make sure that it was based in evidence, but that it was really accessible. So the feedback I’m getting from everyone is, ‘Wow, this is an incredibly accessible book. This is not the kind of book that academics usually write.’ And it’s very practical. I wanted something that people could use and then actually like, learn the skills. It’s got activities. It’s got examples of dialogue. It’s got, you know, even like a script. So it’s like, you want to invite somebody to have a conversation with you. What, what could you actually say? And so it, it’s something that I think can be useful for people to use individually to develop their skills. But also if somebody wants to work together with a friend or with a book group to practice the skills, it would work really well in that kind of situation too. And I did use my understanding of things from having done the workshop and having heard what was going well for people, what people were struggling with. And then I actually recorded myself delivering the workshop material and use that – okay, I’m gonna, maybe you can get a sponsorship from Temi – but Temi is this digital transcription service. And I uploaded this audio transcript to Temi. It was a two-hour audio and I got a transcript in 11 minutes.

Katie: What?!

Dr. Israel: I know!

Katie: Ok, that is a plug for Temi. How do you spell Temi so that we can-

Dr. Israel: T-E-M-I.

Katie: T-E-M-I.

Dr. Israel: It’s Temi dot com or there’s a Temi app.

Katie: Wow.

Dr. Israel: Karen’s nodding. She knows about Temi.

Karen: Yeah. I’ve used them. I adore them. Your first recording is free. [Temi, if you’re listening, we’d love to have you].

Dr. Israel: That’s right.

Karen: And it’s really good. I don’t know how your transcription was for two hours, but it’s pretty good.

Dr. Israel: It’s pretty good. And it has a really good editing interface. And I have to say, if you’re the kind of person who talks more easily than they write, which I am, then. It’s also, it meant that the book is really in my voice, you know. It’s really what I would say and how I would say it, a lot of it, and it made it so much easier to actually put it together. So, so I’m very much drawing on my experience with doing the workshops, but everything that I’m saying is really grounded in what we know in psychology, and the skills that we have in psychology, but also the considerable research knowledge base. There were a lot of things I didn’t know before I started to write the book, like about how our perceptions of people who are on what we would consider “the other side” tend to be really distorted. And understanding that they are distorted and how they’re distorted and all of that, I think, is really helpful to be able to correct those distortions.

Karen: Who would you say this book is for? And I don’t know if you can draw from your experience of who came from the workshops, but who, if you’re listening to this and thinking like, ‘Oh, that’s not for me,’ or you’re thinking ‘That is absolutely for me,’ who was this book written for?

Dr. Israel: I would say it’s written for anyone who either wants to have dialogue across political lines or is feeling distressed about just even the idea of it. When I, when people came to the workshops, and I think that this is also true of people who are buying the book, there are some motivations that come up pretty consistently. A lot of people say, ‘There’s somebody who I have in my life who I don’t want to lose, but we’re having this problem because we’re on different sides of this issue.’ I also heard from people who said, ‘I just cannot understand how people can think that or vote that way or behave that way.’ And so they want to understand. Some people of course, want to understand in order to find common ground, you know, they want to see where they can find common ground. And some people want to understand also so that they can persuade somebody else. So those are some of the common things. So for any of those things, I think this book is really helpful. But even for somebody who says, I’m just losing my mind, thinking about people who are on the other side, and I don’t know how to deal with it.’ Then this is a helpful book. You know, people are telling me that it helps to reduce their stress just by knowing what they can do or that there is something that they could do. That it’s possible to have these conversations even before they actually have them.

Karen: As I have been thinking about this issue of talking across political divides, and I feel like for a lot of people, it becomes about family. That that is where a lot of people are having these conversations or realizing that their uncle thinks these terrible things. And I feel like it’s a little confusing for me as a Black person to watch this happening because, I just, I feel like we relate to – I’m making giant sweeping generalizations and stereotypes. Let’s just roll with it. – I feel like we don’t relate to our families in the same way. And you are much less likely to disagree with an elder in your family in the same way. You are much less likely to challenge your parents’ views of certain things. So I don’t know if you can speak at all about the cultural difference in how these conversations play out.

Dr. Israel: Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the challenging things about doing it in, you know, having these conversations in the family or in a workplace, or in some different situations is there are these existing dynamics and there are power differences and there are cultural aspects to it that sort of define and confine what the conversation can be like. And so I think that’s important to take into account. There’s this chapter in my book where I talk about how dialogue across political lines is like sharing a pizza. And, you know, if you’re sharing a pizza with somebody, like it’s different if you’re, you know, splitting the cost versus if one person’s treating. Then, maybe they get to make more of the decision. And what if someone’s gluten free and you’ve got to take their needs into account. So there’s all these different aspects of this. And it’s like that in a family because it’s, you’ve got the whole history of the family, as well as the cultural context for it. And so you can’t necessarily challenge or confront someone, but actually that’s never what I recommend doing in the book. Like, it’s, it’s all about asking questions and listening. And managing your emotions around that and trying to understand them. And that that’s really something that we can do in most situations.

One of the things that I do recommend is that for people who are in more powerful positions in these conversations, if you’re a manager, if you’re a parent, you know, then be aware that the power that you have in that situation is affecting that conversation and affecting the extent to which somebody might feel like they can be open with you, and you might need to provide a lot more safety and security for them if you really want to understand where they’re coming from.

Katie: That’s so interesting that you talk about safety, because I think that that seems, at least in my personal experience, like the opening to having vulnerable, real conversations with people. Do you have any, for people in those power positions, like parents, like uncles, like people who are, you know, bosses who don’t agree with, you know, their employees, do you have any strategies around how to create that safety? Because if you’re, if you really want to have these conversations, like what are a few things that people can do to create safety in that way?

Dr. Israel: Well, one of the first things that I’ll say about safety is that we have certain ways that we perceive threat. And, sometimes we don’t feel safe because, you know, because somebody either has some type of power or even just because someone’s disagreeing with us. And our bodies respond to threat the same way that they responded to threat, you know, thousands of years ago as if it’s a saber tooth tiger. You know, that our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and we feel flushed and our heart’s beating fast and you know, all of this. And it’s not technically a threatening situation on a, you know, on a safety level, but we experience it that way. So that’s one of the first things is for us to be more discerning about, ‘How threatening is this situation and how much safety do we have? So that’s from the side of, if you’re not feeling safe. If you’re someone who’s trying to create more safety for somebody else, the same things that I’m talking about, listening to somebody. And when I talk about listening, I’m talking about what Stephen Covey describes as ‘listening to understand, instead of listening to respond.’ And so, you know, when, when somebody talks, we give them enough space to be able to say what they want to say. And when we respond, instead of responding with what our view is, we respond by summarizing what they just said. You know, so that they feel heard, and so that we know that we understand what they’ve said. And that’s something that’s helpful for everyone to do in the conversation, but it does help to create more safety and make somebody want to open up more.

Katie: I think one of the questions that I’m really interested in is for people who are kind of in biracial friendships, biracial relationships where, you know, maybe one person is a person of color, the other person is white and they don’t agree on certain things. It could be political, it could be about the current climate in our country right now. What kind of advice can you give people of color who are finding themselves in these conversations with white people in their lives and vice versa?

Dr. Israel: Absolutely. After George Floyd’s murder, I was getting a lot of invitations for interviews about how can people talk to their racist family members. Like that was, you know, lot of things around that. And, you know, one of the things that I would say first of all, is that my guidance on this is guidance for white people or for non-black people of color, particularly. You know, if we’re talking about what’s going on in our country around racial injustice and particularly Black Lives Matter, I think that there’s different kinds of things that black people, you know, may want to do to get support and for action, but for white people, I think that there are some, some ways of being allies that are helpful. So one of the ways of being an ally is not actually inflicting your opinions on black people. So you can listen and be there to, you know, to support. But this is not your arena for sort of airing what your views are. I don’t think that’s helpful if you’re trying to be an ally. And also you need to educate yourself and there’s lots of good materials out there right now for you to educate yourself. So you can do that without actually taking the time of someone who you are extensively trying to support.

The other thing that I’ll say is that I see a lot of non-black people, especially white people on Facebook saying ‘I am unfriending-‘ like sort of proudly saying, ‘I am unfriending my racist relatives!’ Or ‘if you don’t agree with me on this, like unfriend me.’ And every time I see that, I think, ‘Oh my gosh, you have such an opportunity as a white person to access other white people.’ And here you have an opportunity that people of color don’t have and you’re not using it. And so I feel like there’s something in terms of being an ally where you can actually go and have those difficult conversations. And it will not be easy. And that is the ally work that you’re doing. Is that you’re going to go, and you’re going to sit through listening to your uncle, you know, talk about his beliefs, and it’s going to rile you up inside, and you’re going to take deep breaths, and you’re going to like, you know, do your work so that you can hear what they have to say so that you can, you know, maintain that relationship. So through that relationship and through developing more understanding, you might have a possibility of shifting things in some way. And that’s your job as an ally. That’s what I would think. I don’t know. How does that sound to you, Karen?

Karen: It sounds amazing to me. Thank you for all of that. And I, you know, I also think about, that I think people don’t, as you’re talking about, like the discomfort of it and the taking a deep breath and working through it, I feel like white people don’t always realize that they are entering, in so many ways, they are entering these conversations about race voluntarily. Like this is something you have the luxury of being able to choose to do. And that black people, I can only speak for black people. Like, I don’t really have a choice to think about race or not, or to have conversations about race or not, or to have race be something that is a constant, is constantly with me all the time. And I think, yeah, white people, you’re going to be uncomfortable for the length of that conversation. And then if you want to, you don’t ever have to think about race again, really. Like, I mean now, like reading, you know, every news story is about race, but we’ll go back to a time when we don’t talk about it all that much. I hope that’s not true, but I just think white people don’t realize that like, everything that you are experiencing right now and where you feel like race is all anybody’s talking about it, it’s all anybody thinks about, it’s like, ‘Yeah, hi, people of color live like that all the time.’ We think about race all the time. It informs everything we do. So thank you so much for that. And, yeah.

Dr. Israel: Yeah. And I realized, cause this is a podcast, people can’t see me, but I am a non-black person of color. But I also feel like right now is my moment to be an ally. Like this isn’t about, you know, what my situation is, because I always think about who’s most vulnerable right now. I remember right after the 2016 election and I was giving a keynote address and somebody asked the question, they said, ‘Well, you know, how do you feel like we should be dealing with intersectionality, you know, after the 2016 election?’ And I said, you know, I’ll tell you the truth. I got plenty of target identities. You know, I’m a biracial Asian-American, bisexual, Jewish, Buddhist woman of color, you know. It’s just like, I’ve got all these thing., But I also have a lot of privilege, you know. I am relatively light-skinned. I am cis-gender. I, you know, grew up with economic privilege. Like there’s all these things. And right now, if I am not Black or Brown or an immigrant or transgender, my job is to be an ally. And I feel like, especially when we are strongly connected to an oppressed identity, it’s hard for us sometimes to also remember the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to be an ally for others.

Karen: I just think that’s beautiful. And I do think it is really hard to stand down. And I feel like, I just think, for instance, the divide that happens between Black Americans and Africans, for instance. Like the way that Black Americans, right, have relations-, like fraught relationships and the Twitter fights I see happening between African Americans and African people. And that’s exactly, that’s an example of that playing out.

Dr. Israel: Absolutely. And yeah. And, and, you know, so much of what defines people’s experiences in this country in terms of their ethnic and cultural group is like, why did your family, or the people you descended from, how and why did they come to this country? Or were they already here and what happened to them as a result of that? So, yeah, I think that there’s even within groups that, you know, people perceive as being similar and having similar experiences there’s, yeah, huge differences. Yeah. The other thing I’ll say is that I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is now sort of on the map for, you know, being the site of some of the current, you know, controversy. I appreciate that I grew up in a place that had a lot of diversity. So I grew up in an academic family, you know, and like I said, with mixed race and Asian and Jewish, and that was not so much part of the diversity in Charlottesville. But there’s one public high school, and we all went there. And it’s a small Southern college town surrounded by rural Virginia. And I felt like I got exposed to a lot of different views, a lot of different values, a lot of different experiences. And I really think that helped me and that continues to help me not, not only be able to talk to other people, but be really interested in other people. I mean, honestly, I feel like one of the basic values, maybe it’s a skill also too, to develop, to have these conversations, it’s just curiosity. Just wanting to know about other people and being curious.

Katie: I think that that curiosity is such a nice way of thinking about having these conversations versus going in with kind of, you know, fists blazing. I guess I, not to be negative about this, but I do, you know, I guess I wonder for people who are listening, who are in a situation with a family member or someone who they’re really close to, who it’s not a safe situation where they have these conversations and, um, they’re kind of not in the power position to make it a safe situation. And I’ve actually, I know that there are some people that it makes me so incredibly sad that those relationships are fraying to the point of breaking. What kind of advice would you give them? Because is there, is it always, is it always worth trying to listen when that can be almost a destructive conversation for you mentally? Or how do you actually, either break through that, or do you walk away? I guess that’s kind of a question.

Dr. Israel: I think that’s a great question. And the thing I always say is that these conversations are for people who want to be in them. That the guidance that I have is for people who want to be having these conversations. You’re not always going to want to, for a variety of reasons. I mean, some people just don’t want to cause they don’t want to. And some people don’t want to because they really would like to, but it just doesn’t feel safe. One of the things that can be helpful is thinking about what kind of conversation you’re having and what kinds of things are you curious about and asking about. So people can have lots of opinions, but I don’t necessarily just want to hear a slew of people’s opinions. Even if I agree with them, I don’t even want to hear that. But I am really curious about what people’s experiences have been that brought them there, like, ‘Oh, you know, what kinds of things did you hear from your family about that? And, where have you encountered that kind of issue in your life? And how did you get there?’ And that is so much more interesting a conversation to have with anybody then, like, statistics and slogans.

Karen: Yeah.

Dr. Israel: And that can sometimes feel like a safer conversation to have too.

Karen: Absolutely. And I appreciate that question so much, Katie. I have someone, I will not reveal who it is, but I have someone who’s close to me who is struggling with this with their parents. And I feel like for this person, it isn’t about the politics at all. Really. It becomes about ‘You are not the people I thought you were.’ And I don’t know if you have any guidance around like separating, if there’s any ability, if people have the ability to separate, like ‘We started off having a conversation about Trump, but now it’s triggered all of these things.’ And is there a way to separate that? How do you, how do you do it?

Dr. Israel: I don’t know if there’s a way to separate that. I mean, families are complicated. There’s lots of dynamics. There’s, you know, whole fields of family therapies that try to delve into that when we’re not even talking about politics on top of it. So I think that, you know, in some ways whatever’s going on in that conversation is probably reflecting the dynamics that are going on outside of that too. There is something, cause I think, you know, children often feel like they don’t have as much power in a family. And that makes a lot of sense considering family dynamics. I think sometimes when children grow up, they still are feeling powerless even when they’re not, even when they have more power than they realize. And, and parents often don’t feel that powerful with their kids. So I think some of it is again, recognizing like where you really are powerless and where you’re just feeling powerless. And also recognizing things change over time generationally. So I think sometimes kids can get really disappointed at their parents for not being where our current standards are in terms of how we think about things and understand things. But they grew up in a different time. And so that gives kids an opportunity to be like, ‘Wow, I’m curious about how they formed those beliefs. And I want to know about that time that they grew up in and what were the assumptions that people had then and what were, you know, what was going on that made them think that.’

The other thing I’ll say is that right now things are changing so dramatically constantly that, you know, whenever somebody gets a new understanding of something, then it’s like, they have no tolerance for the people who don’t have that understanding, or even for themselves, like from like the past self from 10 minutes ago, you know, who believed a different thing. So, you know, it’s like ‘We should defund the police,’ and it’s like, ‘Okay,’ people totally get on board with that. But like two months ago, that never would have crossed their minds and they would have been like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But still, if somebody else isn’t on board with that, they have no patience for that whatsoever. So one of the things I think we need to do is recognize that these things are shifting and changing really rapidly and we might be changing our own views. We need to somehow have an open heart to ourselves before we changed our views and to other people who may not have the same views that we have now. So I think that, it’s almost, there’s sort of an evangelical feeling about like when somebody’s got a new perspective on something, then it’s like, everybody must think the same thing and just not everybody’s going to be there. Cause you weren’t 10 minutes ago.

Katie: That’s so true. That’s so true. I mean, it’s just, you know, it’s, I feel like that’s so true right now. And also the generational piece where, you know, that kind of goes back to the suggestion you have about having curiosity and, you know, asking those questions about, you know, your elders and asking the questions about like, where are they coming from versus just kind of coming in in the attack mode. I guess one question I have is even though, you know, I might be embracing this attitude of curiosity and genuine wanting to know, you know, about the other person’s experience. Sometimes I’m still carrying around toxic thoughts about that person. And like, I’m still carrying, I’m not, you know, my energy is not clear is really what I’m trying to say. Like, it’s not like I’m coming, instead of asking a question in like a very open, energetic place and kind of just like, ‘Oh, I really am interested.’ I’m kind of asking it in like this, like, you know, I’m pretty tight about it. And so I guess my question for you is how, you know, do you have any methods? I know you said you have a background in Buddhism. Do you have any methods that you recommend? I mean truly like breathing exercises or anything like that where you could, that could help you while you prepare yourself to go into these curious question-asking, loving conversations.

Dr. Israel: Yeah, I think that’s a great question because how do we actually sort of unclench our teeth to be able to have this conversation and a lot of, a lot of different faith traditions have something that can be helpful with this. So like from Buddhism, there’s, you know, loving kindness, meditation. If you’re Christian, then there might be something, you know, from a love thy neighbor perspective, or Quakers talk about holding people in the light. There’s different kinds of, so, you know, faith is, if people have a faith foundation and practice that helps them to get there, then I encourage people to like go to that foundation. There’s also things that, like expressive writing. So expressive writing is something that can be helpful for processing difficult experiences. It’s used a lot in trauma work, but it can also be useful just in sort of getting those difficult, negative feelings out. So I think that if there’s something that you typically do to help yourself kind of ramp down the stress, then that might be helpful to do before you have that conversation. It’s a great idea to do something in preparation.

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Katie: Hi friends, this is Katie Morrell, cohost of Of Course I’m Not Okay: An Audio Project. I wanted to just pop in to say that if you haven’t heard about Anchor, Anchor is an app and it’s one of the easiest ways to make a podcast. I will explain: it’s free, which is a huge bonus. Karen and I are thrilled to be using Anchor as our podcast creation tool. It’s so easy. Honestly, I’m the biggest technophobe and I have found it to be super, super simple. There are creation tools that allow you to record and edit your podcast right from your phone or computer, and Anchor will actually distribute your podcast for you. So it can be heard on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and many more distribution channels. What’s even cooler is that you can actually make money from your podcast, which, you can make money with no minimum listenership. It’s everything you need to make a high tech podcast, all in one place, or make, in our case, an audio project. We’re a little afraid to call it a podcast yet. But yeah, give it a shot, download the free Anchor app or go to Anchor.fm to get started.

[musical interlude]

Katie: It just seems as though it’s so incredibly divisive and so incredibly charged right now since the 2016 election, but I wonder, you know, how you feel Tania with your experience in psychology and over time, do you feel like that’s just something that’s kind of always been there? Like I feel, I mean, I remember when I was a child and, you know, Reagan was creating some strife in my home where it was like, some people really liked him. Some people did not like him. And then, you know, we didn’t talk about it when my grandparents were around, and like that kind of stuff. But then it’s like, you know, I just feel, and maybe it’s because I personally am liberal and have some strong feelings for people who don’t agree with that side. I guess I just wonder from you, have you been finding that this is an even more divisive time or is that just, that’s kind of a, that’s just something that has always been.

Dr. Israel: I think that’s a great question of how did we get here? And I would say, I want to talk about social media for a minute, because I think social media is part of the context that’s created this. So typically if we, like before social media and you know, I remember the world before social media, and you could have these conversations where you might have a conversation with somebody who agrees with you that looks really different from a conversation with somebody who doesn’t agree with you. So, with somebody who agrees with you, you can sort of use the shorthand and the slogans and, and you can vent and you can be like, ‘Yeah right!’ You know, you can do all of that. With somebody who doesn’t, who’s not already on the same page with you, that you are, you probably need to explain a little bit more where you’re coming from and you probably can’t just use the slogans without saying more about what’s behind them. You can’t just sort of say something that would fit on a bumper sticker. You know, you’ve got to actually go into more depth with it.

You also probably need to keep your emotions a little bit, you know, more even if you want them to be able to hear you. Now, then I, you know, when I say things like that, people are like ‘Tone policing!’ You know, like don’t do that, but the thing is that I always bring people back to like, ‘What’s your goal?’ You know, ‘What’s your goal in this conversation?’ And if your goal in this conversation is that you want to just be able to, like, vent and be validated, go talk to somebody who agrees with you. They’ll totally do that for you. Like, I think that’s great. And we need that. Like, we need to be able to get support for our views. But if we’re talking to somebody who doesn’t agree with us, then we have to think about what am I trying to get out of this conversation and what do I need to do in order to accomplish my goals? And so I would say that’s, that’s important to think about that difference. So then what happens in social media? So on social media, we just have one message that’s basically going out to everyone and it’s this one direction communication where it’s like, I’m putting the thing out there. And you know, some people might comment on what I’m saying and we can do that kind of back and forth, but that’s incredibly ineffective for actually promoting any kind of understanding.

Katie: I’m finding that I, because of social media, it’s not a discovery in real life to talk to someone and to figure out what their feelings are. I already know what their feelings are because of social media. And it’s not actually always a good thing because it stops the conversation even from happening, it seems. Like it just, like you say, it’s one way and everything has an exclamation point on it. Like it just, it feels like it’s, and maybe that is a change that has happened over, you know, I mean, social media has really proliferated obviously over the past, you know, decade or more. And it seems like ,I wonder if that’s actually created even more intensity in this space.

Dr. Israel: Well, and it’s funny cause we think that we know what people’s, what people believe based on what they’re posting, but there’s always so much more to it than that. So one of, one of the things that set me on the course that eventually brought me to doing this book was back in the nineties, I had started a group to bring together pro-choice and pro-life people to have dialogue with each other. And yeah, which is like, I always feel like, ‘Gosh, if we could do that, we could do anything.’ And it was an amazing experience for me because it didn’t change anything about how I felt about women’s reproductive freedom. But it changed everything about how I felt about people who disagree with me on it. Because actually being able to sit down with people and find out more about what was behind their views and their values, their experiences, and what I realized is, well, given their values and their experiences, they’re coming to exactly the right conclusions. Just like given my values and experiences, I’m coming to exactly the right conclusions. But I can’t judge their conclusions in the context of my values. That, that doesn’t make any sense, and they can’t do that either. That’s where we’re always trying to do these like ‘Gotcha!’ things. I see this all the time on Twitter. Like people will be like, ‘But you said, blah, blah, blah!’ And you know what, no one’s wrong about that. Like, everyone’s right. We all have logical inconsistencies in what we’re saying. And if the point is to try to identify those and put them in people’s faces, then we’re doing a really good job at that. But if we’re trying to do something else, if we have a different kind of motivation, then that’s just not the way to go.

Karen: I often find myself like lecturing my staff about reading social media and getting really heightened and feeling like we should be doing all of these things and we’re not doing enough, and we’re not saying enough and we’re not reporting on this and we’re not reporting on that. And it’s like, if you are reading Twitter and feeling like you are not a good enough person, you are not enough, then it’s working. That’s what it’s for. That’s absolutely why it exists, is to make you go out and buy things and do things and engage. And yeah, it is not the place we should be having nuanced, emotionally-charged conversations, which is all it is right now.

Dr. Israel: It’s so stressful. Just looking at social media these days, I feel like everything has like an implicit exclamation mark at the end, you know. It just feels like everybody’s so forcefully saying their thing, you know, as if saying the thing is going to actually change the thing, you know, and it doesn’t. There’s a really interesting study that I came across when I was writing the book and I, and I talk about it in there, but they, they were using Twitter, and what they did is they found people to participate who were using Twitter. And for the Democrats, they tweeted conservative tweets to them. And for the Republicans in the study, they tweeted liberal tweets to them. So things that were opposite of their actual views. And that sort of replicates, you know, what we try to do. Like somebody will tweet something and somebody would be like, ‘Well, what about this?’ Or somebody will comment on Facebook with like, ‘Here’s this study, and here’s this statistic!’ And so we’re always like doing this kind of combative thing. What they found is that not only did that not make people change their minds, but it actually pushed them farther apart from each other. So like you tweet, a liberal tweeted a Republican, they’re going to become more conservative. So this kind of back and forth that we’re doing on social media, not only is it not helping, but it’s really like, embedding that divide even more deeply.

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Karen: I have to keep reminding myself that I have the Calm meditation app. I should use it. Calm, if you’re listening, we’d love to have you as a sponsor. I think we mention you every single episode. Dr. Israel, Tania, we want to be respectful of your time. How can people find your book and how can they connect with you?

Dr. Israel: Oh, great questions. So they can go to Taniaisrael.com. It’s T-A-N-I-A-I-S-R-A-E-L.com. And information about the book is there. Also, if you’re having these conversations and you want to tell me how they’re going, there’s actually a little survey on there that you can fill out to let me know how it’s going. Cause I’d like to hear about it. And if you’re interested in any of the other projects I’m working on, I write bisexual haiku. I have a podcast about Buddhism. There’s all kinds of things there, song lyrics that I’ve written. So, it’s a fun place to go and hang out and you can find out about the book there too.

Katie: So fantastic. Thank you so much, Tania. What is the name of your podcast just before we let you go? I want to look it up.

Dr. Israel: Yeah. It’s called Prajna Sparks. P-R-A-J-N-A Sparks. And yeah, so we were talking about it before we started recording, I think, but it’s a friend of mine does a little Buddhist teaching and then we have a conversation. Then I write a song about the topic that a friend of mine sings, and then there’s a guided meditation. So it’s like a four course meal every episode. But, yeah. So something for everybody, I think.

Katie: So beautiful. Thank you so much, Tania. I think this conversation is going to help so many people. We really, really appreciate your time.

Dr. Israel: Thank you. It has been delightful to get a chance to talk to both of you. You’re doing wonderful work and you’re just so much fun to hang out with.

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