I went to a book fair last weekend and, as is my habit, made a beeline toward the history and politics section. After perusing nearly four aisles stocked with historiographies, political commentary, and historical biographies, two things became overwhelmingly clear to me. First, roughly 95 percent of these books represented a single political leaning. Second, those who dared to choose a book from the other 5 percent were met with looks of disdain and judgment from fellow shoppers.
This was both frustrating and unsurprising.
Sales of political literature and fictional dystopian classics are on the uptick, but after discussions with other book lovers, I’ve found that most readers tend to stick to their “tribe” when it comes to the type of party-affiliated books purchased. And of course, there is nothing wrong with reading books that educate, inspire hope, and reinforce your own values. The danger lurks when we become so entangled in our own perspectives that we refuse to entertain or acknowledge the authenticity of another’s opinions and sentiments.
Of course, I’m not naïve or disillusioned enough to believe that reading outside our preferred political genres will cause a transformation or suddenly compel anyone to reevaluate their principles. There aren’t enough Ann Coulter books in print to make me entertain her vitriolic nonsense, even for a moment. But I do believe that in a time when progress has become gridlocked, and even the most basic calls for human compassion are up for debate, we will never find common ground if we’re not willing to seek out new information and listen to opinions that contradict our own.
Cue, as always, books. The next time you’re at a bookstore, consider some of the many benefits of choosing a book that might challenge your way of thinking.
It Will Protect You From Getting Trapped in an Echo Chamber
Nothing is more natural than seeking out political literature authored by like-minded people with similar beliefs and values. But in our increasingly polarized society, the slimmest prospect of bridging divides will hinge on people’s willingness to step outside of their comfort zone and at the very least demonstrate respect for and intellectual comprehension of others’ positions. Reading commentary, biographies and political analyses that run counter to our deeply held beliefs opens us up to new ways of looking at issues, even if we might not agree with the estimation.
It’s Become Too Easy To Write Off Good People With Differing Beliefs as “Evil,” “Elitist,” “Ignorant,” or Worse
Some of the most obnoxious, ill-informed, and close-minded people I’ve met have been members of my own party, while some of the wisest, humble and open-minded individuals have held a different political affiliation. But, there is political capital to be gained in divisiveness, and the endless array of quick sound bites and Twitter tantrums in response to contentious issues has only fanned the flames. It’s allowed us to sum up the whole of a person solely based upon their feelings on a single issue. It’s a pretty bleak way to look at the world. Reading about another’s rival stances, proposals, and values may not sway our own beliefs—but it might humanize those we know little about and make it easier to establish a more compassionate path to discourse.
It Will Sharpen Your Critical Thinking
It might be easy to explain your support for or opposition of particular social, political, economic, or racial subjects. But without the benefit of exploring a differing viewpoint, we lack the resources to comprehensively discuss these matters without eventually getting frustrated and devolving into a series of talking points. Reading opinions contradictory to our own lends the opportunity to investigate the nuances of these positions and fine-tune our thoughts and proposals.
It Will Broaden Your Worldview
In a society in which unpleasant opinions and facts are weaponized as “fake news,” it’s become more critical to be well versed and educated on every side of important topics. The more we understand the history and current intricacies of a subject, the better able we are to examine it in a broader context.
It Will Make You Uncomfortable and Angry – And More Likely to Become Politically Engaged
We are living in a dangerous age, during which civic engagement, education, and tolerance for the opinions of others will be paramount in affecting change. Reading books authored by like-minded politicians, public servants, and journalists may be effective in reinforcing our own beliefs—but reading those authored by people with starkly different ideologies may be what lights the spark to become more involved in important causes.