"Why Are We Yelling?" by Buster Benson

Observing divisions everywhere, I see myself as part of the problem.

I might have been politically asleep until about twenty-seven years old; moving to Montreal changed that, and even left me feeling like an activist for a few years.

The world became more polarized since then, and I observed divisions everywhere, including in my own social circles and family. I was part of that problem: being puristic instead of patient; cancelling, blocking, or unfollowing instead of cultivating curiosity; calling out instead of calling in. Realizing that, I decided to shift towards building social bridges, repairing my social fabric, and cultivating connection. I somehow simultaneously discovered Beau of the Fifth Column and felt fascinated to witness people from a wide political spectrum pay attention to his coverage of USA politics in such a divided country: he's such a masterful teacher that I often find myself bowing down to proclaim "teach me!".

I'm still interested in this question as I think it relates to all societal problems: we cannot advance without learning to talk to one another; we need to include people we disagree with; it's healthy to have conversations outside our bubbles. Reading Why Are We Yelling? re-invigorated this important thread in my life.

The book re-affirms that even if spaces I previously considered harmful might still come with risks, it's possible to keep doors open without superficiality, to dialogue without danger, and to appreciate the potential in learning from anyone; I called it a fire mindset when adversity feeds you somehow.

Everyone has something to offer. Everyone is going through something we're not aware of. Everyone carries experience that others don't. It all applies to you too. We're more productive together and can unlock a wealth of possibility around us if the doors remain open. It serves our broken system to be divided and squabbling.

One of the deepest things I realized in this book is that these reflexes of fostering dialogue are not only for 'outside my bubble', but also inside of it, as being closed to 'the other' becomes an issue both ways.

beware reason

[Reason habituates us to asking black-and-white questions like "what is real?" and "what actually happened?" when actually there's no need to go there, to the point that some people feel a sense of duty to correct others who believe in something considered unacceptable.]
[When resolving conflict, the voice of power uses force, the voice of reason uses systems, and the voice of avoidance uses inaction. The voice of possibility tries to make conflict productive instead, by facilitating learning, curiosity, understanding.]
[The voice of reason makes sense of things by connecting to all the other things that give authority and power to its wielder.]


[The voice of possibility doesn't need to immediately decide whether something is true, and can accept contradictory arguments simultaneously.]
[Consider helping the opposition build their strongest arguments and enlist them to build up yours. Iron sharpens iron, and each of you is best suited to find flaws in the others' approach.]
[Strengthening an argument doesn't make it more threatening.]
A traditional essay makes a single case and puts all its weight behind it. A problem brief collects the best proposals [and criticisms] that attempt to answer the open question. That means it might have two or five or a hundred different proposals, each with supporting evidence and proposed actions, each a result of a collaboration between supporters and opponents.
[1. What is the difference between hearing and endorsing a dangerous idea? 2. Should we hear them or not, and why? 3. Is it possible to discuss them productively?]
[We're easily blind to the loopholes in our own desires.]
[Leader seek to have strong judgment and good instincts. They incorporate diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.]

creating space

[Arguments are an indication of something important, not necessarily bad. It's normal for them to come back like weeds. Not dealing with them to 'avoid rocking the boat' can create anxiousness underlying everything.]
[People don't need to answer, or do so truthfully.]
[Systemic issues stick when their disagreements are stuck in unproductive states or off limits of discussion.]
[Appreciate disagreements; notice and address anxiety.]

conducive discussion

[Try to determine whether it's about being true, meaningful, or useful.]
[Depersonalize points of view so that people feel free to try out other ones. Plot them on a quadrant of agreement against potential to change.]
[Propose to 'disagree and commit' when nobody will have the ideal information anyway, especially if reversible. Try to recognize misalignment and correct quickly.]
[Focus on end-games instead of arguing specific points.]


['Nutpicking' is to select the most extreme viewpoint so that it's easy to tear apart; an empty victory that invites another cycle.]
[Even if one side wins through power, do they really expect the other side to simply shut up about it forever?]
[Open and honest dialogue requires the information shared to not be weaponized.]


[Ghosts and spirits are a more a language to talk about unknown forces that influence us and less a physical being that we can't interact with.]
What is your relationship to the unknown? What is it like to have sensitivity to nature and spirits?
[Ghosts are more heart-realm metaphors than head-realm beings.]


[Instead of "are ghosts real?" ask "what experiences led you to your beliefs?".]
It's amazing to have a chance to peek into someone's belief systems and memories, a treasure trove wasted by a bad question.
To ask a good question, walk right up to the perimeter of your current understanding about something and find a question that you don't know the answer to.
[By realizing that we knew less, we felt somehow wiser.]


[The fruits of disagreement include: 1. security (negotiating for foundation); 2. growth (taking risks to discover new possibilities and potential security); 3. connection (being able to relate to people with diverse perspectives); and 4. enjoyment, learning to enjoy fundamental disagreements because the discussion brings new nuance each time.]
[Going beyond battling for security diffuses the zero-sum game to enable everyone to gain and grow from the experience.]
[To any disagreement, you can ask: What's really at stake here? If true, what happens? What truth would cause you to change your mind? If this were no longer a problem, how would we get there?]


I changed the game from "online debate" to "potluck at my house." I changed the goal from "let's debate ideas" to "let's enjoy each other's company while having a stimulating conversation." I changed the conversational medium from "type into a comment text box" to "discuss over food and drink." And I changed the question from "What do you believe?" to the biggest unanswered question in my own head:
"What's the endgame for the gun-control debate?"
[A given name like 'honour killings' portrays that violence as somehow different than in the occidental nations: more barbaric and primitive. Is ours any better?]
the low doorway is meant to remind guests to enter with respect.

Part of Book Log (klog)

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