Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal
St. Martin’s Press
October 16, 2018
Something is wrong. We all know it.
American life expectancy is declining for a third straight year. Birth rates are dropping. Nearly half of us think the other political party isn’t just wrong; they’re evil. We’re the richest country in history, but we’ve never been more pessimistic. What’s causing the despair?
In Them, bestselling author and U.S. Senator Ben Sasse argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, our crisis isn’t really about politics. It’s that we’re so lonely we can’t see straight—and it bubbles out as anger.
Local communities are collapsing. Across the nation, little leagues are disappearing, Rotary clubs are dwindling, and in all likelihood, we don’t know the neighbor two doors down. Work isn’t what we’d hoped: less certainty, few lifelong coworkers, shallow purpose. Stable families and enduring friendships—life’s fundamental pillars—are in statistical freefall.
As traditional tribes of place evaporate, we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of on a team. No institutions command widespread public trust, enabling foreign intelligence agencies to use technology to pick the scabs on our toxic divisions. We’re in danger of half of us believing different facts than the other half, and the digital revolution throws gas on the fire.
There’s a path forward—but reversing our decline requires something radical: a rediscovery of real places and real human-to-human relationships. Even as technology nudges us to become rootless, Sasse shows how only a recovery of rootedness can heal our lonely souls.
America wants you to be happy, but more urgently, America needs you to love your neighbor. Fixing what’s wrong with the country depends on you rebuilding right where you’re planted.
I think I heard about THEM on a news program where the author, Senator Ben Sasse, was interviewed, and the concept of the book really struck a chord with me. I’m definitely more of a peacemaker type of personality, so I don’t like conflict. It tends to make our current political climate a bit scary to me. Lots of people (myself included) have really strong feelings about issues, and that can make for volatile and stressful family get-togethers. (One time, after trying unsuccessfully several times to end a political debate between two family members, I literally changed the subject and shouted over them, telling a story about a girl scout trip I took with my daughter. I just kept shouting until everyone else stopped talking. It was very rude and embarrassing and also apparently totally necessary.)
At any rate, I was really curious what Sasse would have to say about how to move toward more civil exchanges with people and how to maintain relationships across political divides. He said a lot of smart things– some just about the evolution of the culture and the changes to communities that technology has brought. I agreed with his synopsis of the way communities are not as deeply connected now as people use phones and tablets for everything from social media to movies and TV.
There were some things I didn’t agree with. I believe in civil discourse, so I agreed that we need dialogue and to be able to talk with people who have different viewpoints than we do. But it’s not always safe to do that. Sometimes, when it’s not safe, it’s better to suspend those conversations. I felt like he wasn’t very realistic about that.
I did like a lot of what he had to say, though. There were no easy solutions. A lot of it comes down to crafting a diverse community for yourself, one that includes a variety of political ideas. The idea is that this helps you remember that good people belong to both political parties. We both want the same things: a thriving democracy that allows us and our children to live healthy, happy lives, with an optimistic financial future. But we often differ on how to get to that result and what the government’s role should be in getting us there.
I recommend THEM for readers who are frustrated with politics. It’s one of those books I think everyone should read, regardless of your party affiliation. It’s less about his ideology and more about our culture and why we’ve become so polarized in political views and what to do about it.
Recommended for Ages 15 up.
This book is written by a Conservative Republican Senator.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used twice or so.
Sasse mentions church attendance on Sunday.
Some references to a riot on a college campus.
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