L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition, by Janet Givens

As the American society becomes increasingly polarized on politics, racial justice, abortion, gun rights, public education, and free speech on social media, this is a book we can all benefit from reading. You can benefit even more by discussing the book with a group.

The book I’m referring to is the Third Edition of L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. Ms. Givens is a sociologist and Gestalt psychotherapist.

L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

Although my opening paragraph referred to the polarization of America, this book is intended to help people have any difficult conversation, whether it’s a disagreement you’ve had with your spouse or co-worker, a difference of opinion over a belief with a fellow church member, a conversation you need to have with a family member in the grips of substance abuse, or an honest discussion you want to have about a larger issue with a group, this book will help you get there.

How I learned about the book

Janet Givens and I had connected through our blogs. I was pleased last year when she invited me to participate in a Zoom group to read and discuss an earlier edition of the book. It was a small group – Ms. Givens, six others from across the United States, and me.

Ms. Givens told us up front that she wanted to make some changes in the book and publish a new edition. She wanted our input. It was a wonderful experience to be in such a group. We bonded through our monthly virtual meetings and I miss them now that the purpose that brought us together is completed.

In appreciation for our involvement, Ms. Givens sent each of us a copy of this year’s new edition. I’ve neglected to follow up with a review of the book for several months, for which I’m embarrassed. The best excuse I can concoct is that life and numerous library book due dates I was up against constantly took my attention away from L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G. It’s a poor excuse. I apologize, Janet. (By the way, I was known as “the other Janet” in the small group of eight.)

New introduction

This Third Edition of L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era has a completely new introduction. Sometimes I’m tempted to skip a book’s introduction, but please be sure to read this one. You’ll learn why Ms. Givens wrote the book, how she envisioned it being used, and she asks several questions for you to consider before launching into the meat of the book.

It used to be Americans could agree to disagree with each other over various issues, but that has become the exception rather than the rule. In this “uncivil era” it can seem impossible to civilly discuss issues with someone with whom you hold differing views.

That’s the backdrop for the book. The title is an acronym for Listening, Empathy, Assessment, Perspective, Facts: Forget them for now; Respect, Observation, and Gratitude. Each of those gets its own chapter. The chapters should be read in order for it is in that order in which one should approach any “difficult conversation.”

Ms. Givens is quick to point out in the introduction that one shouldn’t go into such a conversation with the purpose of converting the other person to their way of thinking. Something our Zoom group discussed on several occasions was the need for both/all parties discussing a difficult or divisive topic to be genuinely curious about why the other person has an opinion not like their own.

In her acknowledgements at the back of the book, Ms. Givens indicated that the Zoom group was instrumental in the birth of her “Perspective” chapter and in the reworking of the “Respect” chapter. Let’s look at those chapters.

Perspective

The fourth chapter in the earlier editions of the book was titled “Paraphrase.” Readers were encouraged to listen to the other person with empathy, assess their own state of mind to make sure they were mentally in the right place to have the conversation, and then paraphrase what they thought they heard the other person say.

In this new edition, Ms. Givens replaced “Paraphrase” with “Perspective.” (You’ll also notice in earlier editions most of the chapter titles were action words like Listen, Empathize, Assess, Paraphrase, and Observe. The new chapter titles are mostly nouns, such as Listening, Empathy, Assessment, Perspective, Facts: Forget them for now, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude.) They’re presented more as concepts instead of calls to action.

In the “Perspective” chapter, Ms. Givens invites us to think about perspective – ours and the other person’s. In doing that we will probably listen more carefully to the other person and maybe see the other person’s perspective. I might not change my mind by listening to your perspective, but I might gain a level of understanding of why you think what you think and even a clearer understanding of my own thinking.

The ”Perspective” chapter also addresses unconscious bias. For instance, an experience we had in childhood can affect how we see an issue today. You don’t need to use that as an excuse though. Once we recognize a bias, we can change.

Respect

In the reworked “Respect” chapter, Ms. Givens enlightens the reader to think of respect as something each individual deserves because that’s the foundation of society. Respect isn’t something to be meted out after we’ve judged the other person.

She addresses “othering” – the “us versus them” mindset. One way to move toward genuinely respecting the other person is to tell them you hear them and you think you understand. Then, look for what you have in common. Find something positive to say.

A call to action

I hope my blog post today will prompt you to look for L.E.A.P.F.R.O.G.: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, Third Edition wherever you purchase books. You can also order it from the author at https://janetgivens.com/. I also recommend that you request that your local public library system purchases the book. Ask for it at your local independent bookstore if you don’t see it on the shelf.

Rare is the person who can’t benefit from reading it. Putting into practice the ideas Ms. Givens presents in her book will surely result in a more civil exchange of ideas within the United States or wherever you live – even if it’s just one person at a time.

Since my last blog post

I was struggling with a short story I was writing. It just wasn’t coming together. I did some brainstorming and the pieces finally felt into place. I hope to self-publish a collection of my historical short stories. I’ll keep you posted on my progress on that project.

I’ve completed my work to-date on two branches in my family tree. My sister helped me figure out these two lines. Both lines had some squirrelly dates and connections. We’re more than ready to move on to another family line and hope for less confusion!

Work has slowed on our The Aunts in the Kitchen family cookbook. I keep procrastinating getting the photograph made for the cover of the e-book. I can’t make it myself.

Our computer guy came and got our margins corrected in Word. It’s frustrating for a writer to not be able to set one-inch margins, especially since that’s the default setting. I’m back in business now typing my short stories and formatting them in Word ready to download into Atticus. I’m a happy camper once again!

I’m trying to participate on Twitter again, with limited success. If you’d like to follow me, I’m @janetmorrisonbk.  (Think Janet Morrison book.) Just don’t expect me to Tweet every day or comment on what you post in a timely manner. I’m terrible at social media.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read or listen to. I’m reading The Librarian Spy: A Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin and Booth, by Karen Joy Fowler. I have other books checked out and two more ready to be picked up at the library. I can’t read fast enough!

Life is short. Spend time with family and friends, and make time for a hobby.

Don’t forget the people of Ukraine, Uvalde, and Highland Park, etc. and the people in Kentucky whose lives have been turned upside down by flooding.

Janet

The Other Three Books I Read in January 2019

One thing all bloggers are told they must do, if they hope to attract readers, is to include images in every post. I’ve worked hard to do this for the last several years. I did it last week when I included images of the books I wrote about; however, as I put the finishing touches on this post last night, I repeatedly got messages from WordPress.com saying “Given your current role, you can only link an image, you cannot upload.” Therefore, in today’s post I’ve included links to images of the books I’m writing about. I’m unsure how this will appear until the post goes online. I have no idea why this has happened.

Since I read 6.25 books in January, I decided to split my comments about them between my blog post on February 4, 2019 and today. I hope you’ll find what I have to say about three of the books I read last month worthwhile. These are discussed in no particular order.

The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger

The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger

The Banker’s Wife was a change of pace for me halfway through January after reading The Library Book. The Banker’s Wife, by Cristina Alger, is a financial thriller. In this novel, Ms. Alger takes us to Paris, Geneva, New York, the Dominican Republic, and the Cayman Islands. Primarily through the eyes of two strong female characters, we get a glimpse of the vicious and deadly world most of us never experience – Swiss bank accounts, the people who have them, the people who assist them, and those who are unfortunate to love someone in either of the other two categories.

If I had done more research about Cristina Alger’s books before reading this 2018 novel, I would have known that it is a sequel to her 2012 debut novel, The Darlings. Now, I want to read that book, although being a North Carolinian, “the Darlings” conjures up visuals in my mind’s eye of that ne’er-do-well Darlin’ family on The Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s. It’s difficult to associate wealth with that name. I’m sorry, it just is. I offer my apologies to all the people with the Darling surname.

The Banker’s Wife is Ms. Alger’s third novel. The book captured my attention early on and the fast-paced writing kept me turning pages to see what was going to happen next – and to find out which characters were dead and which one’s deaths were staged to cover up the real story.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda

This book held some nice surprises for me. I’ve been an Alan Alda fan since the days of the M*A*S*H television series. I became even more endeared to him when in answer to my request that he donate an autographed copy of a book he’d written for an autographed book fundraiser held a few years ago for the Friends of the Harrisburg Library in Harrisburg, North Carolina.

Mr. Alda graciously donated an autographed copy of the script for an episode of M*A*S*H that he wrote. It turned out to be the hit of the fundraiser and resulted in a bidding war between two individuals.

That said, I was drawn to the book by the title and the author’s name. I thought it might be helpful to me as a writer since the book is about communication. It was, but not in the ways I anticipated.

Here are a few of the impressions I took from the book:

                1.  Improvisation not only helps actors, it can help anyone get over their fear of talking in front of a large audience.

                2.  No matter what you’re trying to sell – whether it be a tangible product or an idea – the key is to focus on what the customer is thinking and what he or she needs. As a writer, I need to put myself in the mind of my reader. What does my reader need? What is my reader hoping to gain by reading my words?

                3.  Mr. Alda has concluded that the key to the great success of M*A*S*H was the fact that instead of disappearing into their separate trailers on the studio lot, they gathered their chairs in a circle and talked and laughed together as a group between “takes.” He said the connections    they made off camera carried over when they were in front of the camera. It made them all better actors and their genuine comradery came through to the audience.

                4.  Much of Mr. Alda’s book is about empathy and the importance of empathy in communications. The book offers several things a person can do to increase their empathy for others. Mr. Alda says that true communication cannot take place between two people unless each one       makes an effort to understand the other person and why they think the way they do. I couldn’t help but think of how polarized Americans are politically today. There really is a lack of understanding – or empathy – between The Right and The Left, between Republicans and Democrats. This doesn’t bode well for the 2020 election.

                5.  As a writer, start with what your reader knows. Don’t insult the reader by including basic information.

Now You See Me, by Sharon J. Bolton

Now You See Me, by Sharon J. Bolton

Published in 2011, Now You See Me was the first in Sharon J. Bolton’s Lacey Flint series. Flint is a detective in London. The story opens with her seeing a woman dying while leaning on Flint’s car. This thriller grabbed my attention from the beginning and kept me turning pages well into the night. It’s rare that I read a quarter of a novel in one sitting, but that’s what I did with Now You See Me.

Detective Flint is forced almost immediately to try to discern who she can trust within the Metropolitan Police Department. Is she seen as a crime scene witness, or is she viewed as a murder suspect? She’s very convincing as a witness.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the killer is patterning his actions after Jack the Ripper. (Spoiler alert:  this gets more gruesome than I’m used to reading, but I had to know what happened next.)

What about Flint’s fellow police officer, Joesbury. There’s definitely something weird about him. Is he the killer?

No. Someone else is caught… sort of.

I thought the book came to a good stopping point just shy of halfway through. In fact, I thought I might not keep reading. This seems like the end of the story. I could move on to another book.

But I read a few more pages.  Wow! What a turn of events! I’m glad I kept reading!

Since my last blog post

I continue to do a lot of reading about writing and about blogging in an effort to get better at writing fiction and blogging. I made good progress writing a short story I’m calling “From Scotland to America, 1762,” writing 1,400 words Saturday afternoon.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Before and Again, by Barbara Delinsky; Button Man, by Andrew Gross; and A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy.

I rarely listen to a book because I find it irritating to listen to someone talk on and on and on; however, since I’m having a bout with vertigo, I decided to give the Maeve Binchy audio book a try and I’m really enjoying it. It probably has something to do with the lovely accent of the reader, Rosalyn Landor. It’s nice to just shut my eyes and listen.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time and plenty of time to read.

Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.

Let’s continue the conversation

If you’ve read any of the books I mentioned today, let me know what you thought about them.

Janet