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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.