How to prevent politics from severing relationships: An interview with "Now What?" coauthor Beth Silvers

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How to prevent politics from severing relationships: An interview with “Now What?” coauthor Beth Silvers

May 9, 2022 - Blake Atwood

© Delphotostock /stock.adobe.com

© Delphotostock /stock.adobe.com

Do you fear discussing politics? Or do you relish the opportunity?

Have you lost a relationship due to political differences?

Do you believe it’s more challenging than ever before to discuss politics across party aisles?

A recently released book may help you.

In the opening chapter of Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything), the authors ask the first of many pointed questions:

Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything) by: Sarah Stewart Holland, Beth SilversWe are facing a new experiment in human history, and what we face is less a political question than a civic one: How do we live in diverse societies when the historical crutches of religion, ethnicity, or even geography are no longer as powerful as they once were? How do we find connection to one another when our differences are constantly on display? How can we strengthen our connections to one another when politics threatens to tear us apart?

In other words, now what?

An apolitical book about politics

Coauthors Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers have the insight and experience to answer that question for today’s culture. As cohosts of the Pantsuit Politics podcast, they’ve heard story after story from their listeners about the relational rifts opening across America due to our devolving, argumentative political atmosphere.

Yet Now What? is not about politics. It’s about how to discuss politics without sacrificing relationships.

To that end, the authors smartly structured the book in concentric circles, working from our closest relationships (the ones most fraught with political peril) to our more public relationships (e.g., global politics and social media).

Now What? is an easy read made compelling by the relatable anecdotes the authors share. However, they challenge the reader to assess themselves throughout the book, asking direct questions in sections titled “Making the connection” and, of course, “Now what?” These brief sections provide the practical next steps toward answering the central question of the book.

When it comes to addressing the inescapable issues of today’s politics, Now What? offers multiple ways to answer that question in a healthy, relational manner.

Discussing Now What? with Beth Silvers

Coauthor Beth Silvers provided a few answers via email on Now What?‘s audience, structure, storytelling, and the role of the Christian faith in seeking unity.

Whom did you write this for? In some ways, it seems like a book that someone would buy for someone else as a passive-aggressive way to hint that their behavior needs to change, when, in fact, we can all learn something from what you’ve written. 

Our podcast listeners are always the first audience we have in mind. They are smart, generous, politically engaged, and constantly seeking out grace-filled dialogue. And everything is still hard! We’ve especially seen (in our own lives and in countless messages from listeners) that Covid-19 injected new tensions into relationships at home, at work, in communities, and in politics. We wrote this book to provide some reflection on our current divisions and with the hope that reflection will help us move forward.

And we always say that if you’d like to hate-gift our book, you’re welcome, too; you just also need to pick up your own copy.

What’s the throughline of moving forward in all of a person’s spheres of influence (e.g., family, friendships, churches, etc.)? Is there a single practical suggestion that would help us seek unity in all of these areas of our lives?

Political discussion is off track because we keep flattening each other out. If we can keep in mind that every person has this full history—a family of origin, colleagues and neighbors and hopefully friends, memories and stories—that they bring to every interaction, every vote, every tweet, we can walk in each other’s directions.

The personal stories shared throughout are relatable, funny, and compelling, and even the decision to share so much is an example itself of what you suggest we do in the first chapter: to learn each other’s stories. Do you believe that to be a lost art? Do too many of us too often fail to see the full person behind their political belief that we staunchly disagree with? How do we get past that?

I don’t think storytelling is a lost art; we have more ways to share our stories than at any time in human history, and lots of people are doing it with real creativity and power. I think the difficulty is more that we’re overwhelmed by information, so our brains are adapting with the best tool they have: sorting. So maybe I put your life stories over here, and then I assess your political opinions over there. If one runs afoul of where I am, now you’re an outsider. It’s completely understandable that our brains are responding to the stress of the Information Age this way. We also want to bring some awareness to that dynamic because it’s obviously not serving us well politically.

Lastly, on the surface, this isn’t a particularly spiritual book insofar as you don’t quote Scripture or offer a spiritual platitude in the conclusion. Aside from the beginning of chapter 6, not much is mentioned about the church or Christianity. What role should our Christian faith play in seeking unity despite our differences?

I hope those of us who share the Christian faith will draw inspiration from Jesus’s interest in and heart for other people. As a kid, I really loved the song about Zacchaeus, especially “for I’m going to your house today.” The example from Jesus isn’t “I’m going to shame you on Facebook and then block you.” It’s not even, “I guess we’ll agree to disagree.” Instead, Jesus took the time to eat with people, to listen to them, to care for them. If Jesus had all of this space for different ways of living, for big feelings, for hard questions, then can’t I ease up a little on my judgment? If Jesus found time to break bread with other people, then can’t I prioritize relationships and stories?

To that end, let’s make room for big feelings and hard questions, and let’s set an extra place at the table for the people who’ve been sitting across the aisle from us for far too long.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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