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The idea for Tania Israel’s book Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, which provides readers with concrete strategies for reducing the stress and misunderstandings associated with political polarization, came, like so many other things in America today, immediately following the election of November 2016. Israel, professor of counseling psychology at UCSB, saw a nation increasingly unable to connect across the red/blue divide, and she knew from years of experience as a teacher, as a psychologist, and as a facilitator of workshops that her discipline had useful tools that could help reduce this conflict. 

The first expression of this impulse to do something about a divided America was a diagram called “The Flowchart That Will Resolve All Political Conflict in Our Country,” and it’s included in Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work as Figure 1.1, a testament to both the idealism of the mission and the wisdom of Professor Israel’s self-awareness. While she acknowledges that, “shockingly,” the chart did not succeed in eliminating all political conflict in America, it did accomplish something important by initiating this project, which then became a series of workshops in which hundreds of people participated in versions of the various exercises and techniques detailed in the book. These messy, real-world encounters with actual humans laid the essential groundwork for Beyond Your Bubble’s incisive, richly detailed, and, above all, useful descriptions of such crucial activities as being a good listener, managing emotions, and cultivating understanding.

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Even those already steeped in the literature of conflict resolution will find valuable concepts here, observations that capture key nuances within the more familiar larger categories of behavior. Sure, you know how to mirror the position of the person you are talking with by restating and paraphrasing their key points, but are you “nuggetizing” them? You will be after reading Israel’s Bubble. Deftly mixing substantial documentation of recent research in psychology with illustrative dialogues featuring Kevin and Celine, liberal and conservative cousins who wish to reduce their discomfort when encountering each other at family events, the book paints a picture of political conflict that’s at once realistic and optimistic. We can’t agree on everything — an unreachable goal — but together we can begin the process of dismantling positions based on labels by learning how others have arrived at the beliefs they hold. 

Israel identifies the fact that “we see others as more extreme than they really are” as one of the most consequential discoveries in her work. When she asks readers to identify their motivations for dialogue, she does so in the hope that they may eventually listen to understand, rather than just to respond. It’s this quality of curiosity and “intellectual humility,” which Israel describes as “being righteous without being self-righteous” that underlies the potential for success of the entire approach. 

The book has come out at a moment of extraordinary historical importance, an unprecedented crisis in our country’s self-understanding. It’s published by the American Psychological Association, a multifaceted organization perhaps best known among the general public for APA Style, the standard procedure for documenting sources in the social sciences. When the APA first approached Israel about writing a book, they were after something on LGBTQ+ counseling and advocacy, another area in which she has demonstrated expertise. But when she suggested the idea for Beyond Your Bubble instead, they went all in, agreeing not only to back the timely volume, but also — and this was a deal-making point for the author — to get it out before November 2020. Read it now, and begin to listen as though our lives and the future of our country depend on it.

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