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Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt

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NATIONAL BESTSELLER To get ahead today, you have to be a jerk, right? Divisive politicians. Screaming heads on television. Angry campus activists. Twitter trolls. Today in America, there is an “outrage industrial complex” that prospers by setting American against American, creating a “culture of contempt”—the habit of seeing people who disagree with us not as merely incorrect, but as worthless and defective. Maybe, like more than nine out of ten Americans, you dislike it. But hey, either you play along, or you’ll be left behind, right? Wrong. In Love Your Enemies , social scientist and author of the #1  New York Times bestseller From Strength to Strength Arthur C. Brooks shows that abuse and outrage are not the right formula for lasting success. Brooks blends cutting-edge behavioral research, ancient wisdom, and a decade of experience leading one of America’s top policy think tanks in a work that offers a better way to lead based on bridging divides and mending relationships. Brooks’ prescriptions are unconventional. To bring America together, we shouldn’t try to agree more. There is no need for mushy moderation, because disagreement is the secret to excellence. Civility and tolerance shouldn’t be our goals, because they are hopelessly low standards. And our feelings toward our foes are irrelevant; what matters is how we choose to act. Love Your Enemies offers a clear strategy for victory for a new generation of leaders. It is a rallying cry for people hoping for a new era of American progress. Most of all, it is a roadmap to arrive at the happiness that comes when we choose to love one another, despite our differences.  

256 pages, Hardcover

First published March 1, 2019

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Arthur C. Brooks

21 books492 followers

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Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,873 reviews292 followers
February 14, 2023
Let me start with a story.

Back in 2001, I worked for the U.S. Census Bureau. Many people don't know that the Census Bureau does much more than simply count the number of people in the US every ten years. There are ongoing surveys that Americans are asked to participate in. During my years with the Census Bureau, I went to people's homes and asked a list of questions for various government surveys about employment, housing starts, income, health, and many other important topics. The specific data about each person is confidential and I took an oath to always keep the data confidential, and, of course, I will always do that.

But the responses to one question on one health survey have always stuck with me. The question was:  "Outside my immediate family, I have few close friends. True or false?" I administered this survey to exactly one hundred people and ninety-five said that statement was true.

Let me restate this to clarify: Ninety-five percent of the people I interviewed said they have few close friends. 

This was astounding to me. I grew up in a small town, and, after I married, I raised my children in the same small town where my parents and in-laws and siblings and all of their extended families lived. I still live in this town. Over the years, I have met many, many people through my volunteer activities and work and church and my love of books outside my town as well, and I talk often to these people and I try to get together whenever I can. In short, I feel like I have many, many close friends.

But most people do not feel this way. Most people in America feel alienated, friendless, lonely, alone.

This continued to stick in my mind. In 2002, I read a book called Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam. Putnam gathered data from all across America and came to the same conclusions I'd come to after my stint with the Census Bureau:

Most people in America feel alienated, friendless, lonely, alone.

In more recent years I've become deeply disturbed by the climate here in America. During and after the last national election for president, I've been dismayed at the behavior of our leaders, especially our elected president. I was shocked when Donald Trump was elected as our president, and I've been horrified by the words he has spoken to others during his time as president. I don't watch television, but the bits of public life that have filtered down to me fill me with sadness and trepidation.

What is going on in my America?

I picked up three books at the recent library conference in Austin that I've been reading in tandem over the past weeks. These books have helped me understand the malaise of the American people. They have helped me think through ways that we can work to change the mood and behavior of the people of our country.  

The three books I read are:

Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse by Timothy P. Carney

Our Towns: A 100,000 Journey Into the Heart of America by James M. and Deborah Fallows

Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks

What have I learned from reading these books? 

Timothy P. Carney looks at the hard, cold facts about America today, especially those who brought Trump into power. The places where Trump scored big are key to understanding why he was elected, Carney tells us. What are those places like?

"Employment is far worse (in these places).... Death rates, especially death by suicide and overdose, correlated with Trump's best counties....Educational attainment is lower in Trump Country. More people are on unemployment. More people are on disability. These economic indicators are devastating, and crucial. But more telling are the social indicators. More men have dropped out of the workforce. Marriage rates are lower. Illegitimacy is higher. Divorce is higher....(Members of this group) said religion was very important to them, but...they were the least likely to go to church."

I found this absolutely fascinating stuff. Trump scores well in places where people are unhappy and communities are weak. 

To add to the problems, the right, Carney tells us, has steadily worked for big businesses over small businesses, deeply weakening community bonds

On the other side, according to Carney, the left has been promoting ideas for years that also build community alienation, stressing overcentralized government programs that provide for the poor at the expense of individuals and local efforts to help the poor, and emphasizing individual freedoms at the expense of the stabilizing effects of marriage and family and church and community on each person.

Arthur C. Brooks, in Love Your Enemies, shares the destructive power of contempt by citing the work of social psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman. Gottman, Brooks tells us, has studied thousands of married couples. After watching a couple interact for just one hour, Gottman can predict with 94 percent accuracy whether a couple will divorce within three years. What is this based on? It isn't the amount of anger a couple expresses, but, instead, it is the amount of contempt one member shows for another. And it is this contempt for one another in political matters that is currently making it impossible for opposing political parties to work together.

So where are we now? Yelling and screaming at each other from positions far to the left or right of our common ground. Cutting off friendships and family connections based on these extreme political positions. 

In short, a mess.

Here is where Arthur C. Brooks takes up the struggle. In his book, Love Your Enemies, Brooks writes: "Deep down, we all know that the polarization we are experiencing in our politics today is toxic. We hate the fighting, the insults, the violence and disrespect."

Brooks shares a powerful story of the rare coming together of political opponents. Black Lives Matter protesters were confronting a group of Trump supporters in Washington, DC. Confrontation was rapidly accelerating into possible violence. 

But then the organizer of the rally unexpectedly offered two minutes of time to the leader of Black Lives Matter. And everything changed. See for yourself what happened: https://youtu.be/xoXwgfYAJFU.

Wow, I thought. Wow. There is hope. 

Brooks shares four rules Gottman offered for bringing people back together. Because we are in such a desperate situation, and because these rules can have a dramatic effect on changing things, I'm sharing them here:


"1. When others are upset about politics, listen to them respectfully. Try to understand their point of view before offering your own. Never listen only to rebut.

 2. In your interactions with others, particularly in areas of disagreement, adopt the 'five-to-one rule,' which he gives couples. Make sure you offer five positive comments for every criticism.

 3. No contempt is ever justified, even if, in the heat of the moment, you think someone deserves it. It is unjustified more often than you know, it is always bad for you, and it will never convince anyone that she is wrong.

 4. Go where people disagree with you and learn from them. That means making new friends and seeing out opinions you know you don't agree with. How to act when you get there? See rules 1 to 3!"

Brooks uses the rest of the book to expand upon these rules and share oodles of great advice for our world, and I'd encourage you to get the book and read it carefully for yourself.

How does Our Towns fit into my study of America? James Fallows and Deborah Fallows spend four years and travel 100,000 miles to visit towns and cities across America to see what is going on in our country. Their book is also a book of hope. In every town and city where they find good things going on, they first see people working together for common goals, both economic and social, building up local businesses, building up local communities, building up schools, rethinking the whats and hows but keeping the whys, and taking pride in what is happening. The two Fallowses offer "10 1/2 Signs of Civic Success" as their takeaway from this adventure. Key to a local community's success is that "people work together on practical local possibilities, rather than allowing bitter disagreements to keep them apart...."

So I've ranted long enough, I think, and it's time for me to start working in my local community to make things better. I feel like I have some solid ideas to work from after reading these three books.

I welcome any thoughts you have about my thoughts here; I'd love to open this into a conversation. Let's move forward, shall we? And can we please move forward together?

Profile Image for Scott.
1,800 reviews132 followers
June 20, 2019
" . . . I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. If you only love those who love you, what reward will you get?" -- Matthew 5:44-46

Brooks' Love Your Enemies discusses how communication between opposing sides - often, but not always, in the American political landscape - has broken down and has become entrenched in severe contempt. (What's the cause? Social media and pundit-based cable shows shoulder some, but not all, of the blame.) When our civil discourse now boils down to who can sound the loudest or angriest and can hurl the sharpest insults at the opposition, something is seriously out of order in this nation.

He argues the U.S. can and should be better than this as a first-world country. Fortunately, he has simple yet quietly profound ideas (plus a few good stories) on how we can start on an individual level to get things back on track. I suppose some or even much of it will sound like plain common sense, but maybe that's just what's lacking in our current climate. A lot of it breaks down to being an open-minded and polite person, but not into an overdose of touchy-feely glurge. (Brooks doesn't advocate for going the 'mushy' or safe route - competition in life can be healthy, spirited and needed . . . but please follow the rules and play fair for the best results.) He also reasonably points out that both the conservative and liberal camps fall into the 'contempt culture,' and they are equally guilty in steering things to their present location. Politicians from all parties could glean something from this book.
Profile Image for Carmel Hanes.
Author 1 book136 followers
April 6, 2021
Unfortunately, this title will likely put a lot of people off this book. In our current polarized and enraged culture, it's hard, if not impossible, to think about "loving our enemies". The past few years have seen a record number of people stop speaking to each other; family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. I suspect we'd rather trip them and egg their houses than "love" them. We might even feel we've taken the high road to just stop speaking to them, since we can conjure up so many ways to express our displeasure as a result of our disagreements.

But I'm going to encourage every person who is tired of feeling angry, who is tired of feeling hopeless, who is tired of worrying about where we are headed to spend time with this book. Put aside that admonition to "love" for a minute, because this book has a thoughtful (in my humble opinion) dissection of how we got here, what perpetuates it, and what we can individually do to help us navigate our way out of it, or at least reduce the destructiveness-- on our own psyches, if not collectively.

Some key points Brooks covers that are worth thinking and talking about with other thoughtful people:

--we've created a culture of contempt; existing in ideological silos, and operating with anonymity, allowing for distancing, dehumanizing, and mistreatment of "the other"
--rather than civilly debating important differences in policies, beliefs, desires, we impugn the morality and character of "the other", which avoids the needed discussions, creating a culture of love us/hate them; making it unnecessary to listen to what the other side wants
--there are large areas of similarity and agreement on both sides of a divide which could be used to find the best solutions, but which are lost in the manipulation of our news, party leader rhetoric, and unwillingness to expose ourselves to where the "other" comes from; we are stronger as a culture when there is a sharing of opposing ideas to a mutual resolution
--facts don't change opinions or beliefs, individual stories do because it activates our innate compassion for others and doesn't allow for that dehumanization so prevalent
--we are being played by those who control the narrative, on both sides

Brooks offers research that supports his contentions, much of it familiar to me due to my background in psychology. My knowing it did not always keep me from falling into group-think with those who share some of my core values. It did not keep me from becoming so incensed at events and people that I behaved in ways that ran counter to my wish to be objective, thoughtful, reasonable, and kind in my discourse and treatment of others. It did not keep me from becoming angry, sad, worried and discouraged at times in the past several years.

This book spoke to my better angel and filled it with a new sense of purpose. I may not reach the level of "loving" all those who see things differently, but listening to these ideas may help me interact more effectively, and with a different purpose than before, which will help me feel better about my own choices and presentation. It might help me manage those in my life who feel differently without injuring the relationships. And it just might give me a stronger sense of peace in a world that is anything but peaceful. That, in itself, would be an improvement.

This would be a great book for thoughtful people to discuss, putting into practice what the book preaches.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,636 reviews417 followers
March 2, 2021
5 stars because this is Arthur Brooks and I can't praise his message enough. And 3 for actual content.
I've seen Brooks practice what he preaches. I once worked for a nation-wide non-profit and we invited several high-profile political speakers to come to a conference put on to celebrate our volunteers. Most of the politicians spent their time throwing out red meat to rile up the audience and one even tried to convince our volunteers to go volunteer for him instead!
Then Arthur Brooks got up. And he didn't name-call. He didn't strive to get a rise out of the audience. But he made his case for the role of the free market for lifting people out of poverty and into places of dignity. It was, to my mind and my volunteers that day, one of the best moments of the entire conference.
But my volunteers still left me for the volunteer-stealing politician.
And that's a good description of this book. It has a fantastic message that I wish everyone would give time to really consider. But it doesn't actually do much.
Love Your Enemies makes the case for seeking common ground with our political enemies instead of disharmony, pursuing rational discourse over name calling. It is a message that has only grown more important in the wake of the 2020 elections. One that we need to hear at every level and generation.
Brooks looks to religion, philosophy, psychology, and sociology to make his arguments. He makes the case that nice guys don't finish last. That bridge-building with political opponents matters. That we shouldn't celebrate politicians and thought-leaders who seek to divide. All great messages.
But I'm not sure it will be enough. I don't know if this will change the mind of someone who doesn't already agree with his premise at some basic level. Or if they would even take the time to read it. It's an oddly pessimistic response from me. I didn't expect it while reading. But at the end of the day, I don't really think this book will do much.
This book didn't tap into a strong emotion. It utilized stories well. It relied on lots of studies that anyone fairly well read in the psychology/sociology genre probably already knows. And it makes a lot of noise.
But at the end of the day, it is also...incredibly vague.
I honestly expect to forget I even read it. I might be more open to speaking with people I ideologically disagree with, but it won't make me reign in my rancor on social media for the very simple reason that I already don't engage on social media! And that's about the only practical tip I walked out of here with.
This review provides a great, in-depth look at the problem. (And maybe feeds the problem? Ahh, this is what happens when I'm left with good intentions and no clear lines!)
In conclusion, this book feels like an attempt at 21st century version of The Closing of the American Mind. And it just isn't. But by golly, it is Arthur Brooks so I loved it anyway and still recommend reading.

Arthur Brooks wrote another book?!

Profile Image for Mark Alexis.
24 reviews15 followers
March 17, 2019
It has been my conviction for a while now that social media and the daily phony outrages they help spur are rewiring our brains as we speak and make us more stupid. (Ever been on Twitter? Yeah.) Moreover, reading the drivel passing for political insight on our feeds makes us desperate to avoid the latest spat involving President Trump when we talk to these Facebook philosophers at an uncle’s birthday party. Better to change the topic to, say, the Patriots’ ‘Deflate Gate’. It’s bound to get some voices raised, but at the end of the day that feels better than having to battle accusations of secretly cherishing Nazi sympathies.

If you, like me, are more than fed up with the sad reality pictured above, Arthur C. Brooks’ new book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt, must have received a warm welcome in your mailbox. The outgoing president of the American Enterprise Institute and a devout Catholic, Brooks should have a thing or two to say about our present culture of contempt, its roots, and its consequences.

The author makes the case that yours truly wasn’t imagining things when nervously resorting to Deflate Gate. In fact, “Political differences are ripping our country apart,” he writes. “Political scientists find that our nation is more polarized than it has been at any time since the Civil War.” Just one unfortunate result of this is that “one in six Americans … stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election.” In addition, we are now collectively sorting our “social life along ideological lines”, by avoiding places and media where we might find people who disagree with us and “seeking out the spaces … where [we] find the most ideological compatriots.”

At the heart of our problem, Brooks argues, lies not hatred or anger, but contempt (defined as “anger mixed with disgust”): “Across the political spectrum, people in positions of power and influence are setting us against one another. They tell us our neighbors who disagree with us politically are ruining our country. That ideological differences aren’t a matter of differing opinions but reflect moral turpitude. That our side must utterly vanquish the other, even if it leaves our neighbors without a voice.” In fact, humans show literal signs of addiction to this sort of contempt, Brooks writes, like we would to alcohol or cigarettes, and the outrage industry in our media and broader culture takes advantage of this.

Psychological research demonstrates that contempt makes us unhappy as well as unhealthy. Those subjected to it “have poorer sleep quality, and their immune systems don’t function as well,” while those practicing it produce “two stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline”, which have been linked to increased odds of premature death. Sounds lovely, if not exactly a recipe for individual, let alone societal, health.

As a diagnosis of our present perils Love Your Enemies is solid enough. Where it is lacking, however, is in 1) establishing the causes of our collective contempt and political bifurcation, and; 2) realistic steps to make a meaningful change: What to do about all this? To start off with the latter, Brooks found his inspiration in chatting with his friend the Dalai Lama: “‘Your Holiness,’ I asked him, ‘what do I do when I feel contempt?'” Responded His Holiness: “Practice warm-heartedness.” After pondering this little dose of Gelug wisdom, Brooks concluded: “He was not advocating surrender to the views of those with whom we disagree. If I believe I am right, I have a duty to stick to my views. But my duty is also to be kind, fair, and friendly to all, even those with whom I have great differences.”

He sets forth some basic rules for our conduct with the other side that should be common sense to anyone with a decent bone in their body. Be kind in the face of contempt: “Treat others with love and respect.” “Don’t attack or insult. Don’t even try to win.” Never field an argumentum ad hominem in your political discussions. “Stand up to people on your own side who trash people on the other side.” “Escape the bubble.” You get the picture. The one buzzword dominating this book is “love”. Brooks quotes Christ in the Gospel of Luke: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. … But love your enemies. … Then your reward will be great.” If these tactics won’t win over your hostile interlocutor, they will at least make you feel better.

What is needed in America today at the political level, Brooks proceeds to explain, is a new style of “authoritative” leadership: “What we truly require is a new vision from authoritative leaders for the purpose of our economy and public policy. By articulating a clear aim of restoring human dignity and expanding opportunity, authoritative leaders can create space for Americans to think about old problems in new ways.”

If the above sounds noble and sympathetic, it’s also vague and, given the present state of our society, utter pie in the sky. What we have on our hand here is a classic prisoner’s dilemma. Kindness in the face of contempt can be perceived as weakness. Why should your side be the first to change its behavior? This is a serious problem, and it makes one pessimistic about the odds of this project of loving your enemies ever succeeding. Our national moral consensus has eroded, and the philosophical differences resulting from this are real. Liberals wish to reinterpret the Constitution to suit their political agenda and altogether banish religion to behind our front doors. And conservatives wish to stem this liberal tide by any legal means possible — which post-2016 means “Donald Trump”.

This brings us to the other reason Love Your Enemies falls short: It has surprisingly little to say about the causes of the bifurcation of our society it details. And the few things it does say leave the reader wanting for more.

Brooks is an economist, and this background transpires when he takes a shot at explaining the trigger event which seems to have all but sealed our national divorce: the ascendancy to the presidency of Donald Trump. “For decades,” the author relates,

“conventional conservatives had emphasized issues such as entitlement reform, which is important for the solvency of the country but feels cold and remote to voters worried about losing their job and benefits. Meanwhile, the conventional political left focused on the “income gap” separating rich and poor. They contended that income inequality would ignite a new class struggle, causing unprecedented political turmoil. This was half right. There was indeed a gap in this country, but the relevant gap wasn’t income. It was dignity. … As the future fills with whiz-bang technologies, from artificial intelligence to driverless cars, one part of the population sees ingenuity, mobility, and progress. Another part hears, “We don’t need you anymore.” This is the dignity gap. … Even with strong economic growth, the United States has bifurcated into a nation of socioeconomic winners and losers, and this stratification is poisoning American culture.”

Who are these losers? You guessed it: “Lots of people of all races and classes, but to an especially large extent, it is working-class men.” Echoing J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Brooks relays how the mortality rate among members of this group has been on the rise since 1999. “The main reasons? Cirrhosis of the liver (up 50 percent since 1999 among this group), suicide (up 78 percent), and drug overdoses, primarily of opiates (up 323 percent).” It’s the by now familiar heart-wrenching tune lamenting the sad plight of our nation’s working classes, and it needs no further explanation that these are the people who voted for Trump.

That said, while I wouldn’t ignore the economic pains our working classes endure, I’d like to make the case that the battle is waged primarily over our culture, not economics. The problem is not just that these people feel like they’re no longer needed in our advanced economy, but that the cultural and political elites in our country disparage them as a sweaty bunch of gap-toothed, god-fearing and gun-toting yokels who are too dim-witted to acknowledge that, in order to save humanity from a climate change catastrophe, they’ll need to say bye-bye to their job on the oil rig in Texas or the coal mine in West Virginia. Another familiar theme is that politicians from Left to Right are consciously hurting the economic plight of the people they’re purporting to help by allowing hundreds of thousands of workers to enter the United States every year to work here, legally or not so legally.

In post-truth America, the media can get away with actively undermining a democratically-elected president in a concerted effort to undo an election the outcome of which wasn’t to their liking. Colin Kaepernick could, without much criticism from those same media, bring his political fight over an otherwise legitimate cause to a supposedly non-political arena — the NFL — which collects the majority of its revenues from the very working classes Kaepernick would disparage as a gang of racists exercising their ‘white privilege’. And when Brett Kavanaugh was nominated to fill Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court seat, the Left unleashed a barrage of dirty tricks and hysteria that was unprecedented even by its own abominable standards. Did the Right pull similar stunts with Sotomayor and Kagan?

Brooks is correct that contempt begets contempt, of course. It’s a vicious cycle, which explains why The Donald is our president today. The reason why the nastiness reached new lows during and after the 2016 campaign is because, unlike John McCain, Mitt Romney and all the others, Trump fought back and offered his base a sense of self-value; the prospect that, no, you are not obsolete, because we’re going to turn this thing around for you. And no, despite the well-nigh Orwellian claims to the contrary, Mexicans do not have a moral right to stampede our borders without consequences, and it’s not self-evident that ICE should be “abolished”.

Looking at it from a different angle, these establishment attitudes on our culture didn’t emerge grass-roots in a cultural vacuum. They are the end result of ideas that originated on college campuses a long time ago. America isn’t torn apart by contempt. It’s torn apart by identity politics, which has pitted a thousand and one identity groups against white men as well as each other and so has unleashed a cold civil war that could usher in the end of the United States as we know it. But, since identity politics is the love child of Marxism and postmodernism (in other words, a product of the Left), Brooks is hesitant to broach this subject for fear of alienating half of his audience. So he resorts to boring generalities and offers up negative examples from both sides of the political spectrum in order to stay ‘balanced’.

Consequently, as an exercise in establishing the root causes of our societal stratification, Love Your Enemies falls remarkably flat. Brooks is so busy tiptoeing around the easily offended to both his left and his right, so obsessed with his on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand illustrations supporting the argument he’s attempting to make, that it leaves the reader scratching his head in wonder if anything was deliberately left out beyond the author’s platitudes about Luke 6:32-35. It is obvious to any neutral observer, however, that the present cultural conflict is not symmetrical, but the result of an intellectual assault by the academic Left on institutions and ideas it deemed inhibitive of our individualism and rationality. We’re seeing liberalism coming to full fruition.

In conclusion, Love Your Enemies is as inane as it is disappointing. It’s disappointing because the problem the book purports to deal with is real and deserving of our attention. But the problem is real not because of social media and our collective contempt (though these don’t help), but because of other intellectual and political forces upon which Brooks barely even touches. It turns out that, for all his personal faults, The Donald is a keener observer of our beloved America than Arthur Brooks. Imagine that.
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books1,077 followers
September 18, 2019
I was a little less than halfway through this book when I was anticipating encounters with people who were likely to disagree with me—not enemies, but simply people who would have a different take on things than I did. I'm more okay with this at age 68 than I was when I was younger, but there is still a part of me that wants everyone to see things as I do. I had just read the bit in this book about how everybody wants dignity and in order to bridge your own biases and treat people with dignity, simply relate to their pain and our common desire for compassion and kindness: we want to be treated with dignity and we want to feel that others understand us and are kind to us. So, in the midst of my subsequent the conversations, I found myself silently repeating the mantra, "Everybody wants dignity." And instantly I found myself feeling open and curious rather than shutting down. As conversations continued, I spontaneously found myself telling stories—personal stories with beginnings, middles, and endings—which resulted in the people I was talking to being moved, open, and welcoming to my differing opinions. And it wasn't until the next day when I hit chapter 6, entitled "Tell Me a Story," that I learned that I'd impulsively done the very thing that evokes oxytocin—the empathy-inducing hormone—in listeners' brains.

This book works! It's a how-to, based on science and studies, but Brooks practices what he preaches and conveys it through stories in a charming, warm, and useful way. He helped illuminate and evolve my understanding and therefore attitude toward competition and disagreements and offers a lot to contemplate for anybody who is willing.
Profile Image for Kyle Dubiel.
143 reviews
April 26, 2019
I was introduced to the book while listening to NPR when Brooks was interviewed about it. I was hooked--his ideas sounded interesting.

The book starts off well--much of it mirrored what I had learned in my "Science of Happiness" class in college. His bits about the danger of anonymity on the internet are great.

But then this turned into shilling for a conservative utopia.

A lot of what Brooks uses as arguments (e.g. mob mentality as being bad for society) have already been well-known and talked about. The problem with this book as that everything he pretty much said is already known and the problem is not that no one knows it, but that ***it doesn't work in the world we actually live in***.

Brooks has great intentions. I'm sure he really is a nice guy. I just think he lives in a conservative fantasy land. He claims that the reason that conservatives hated Obama not wearing a 9/11 pin or NFLers kneeling during the national anthem is because conservatives' brains are wired to prioritize loyalty, among other things, that liberals don't. This is backed up by neuroscience. Cool. BUT unfortunately, I simply don't think that's the whole picture because if there's one thing that's also been equally proven (and completely ignored by Brooks) is that RACISM and RACE plays into EVERYTHING.

Additionally, he goes on a rant about the free-market and competition of ideas being a good thing, claiming that Americans want fair competition, which is why we "break up monopolies" and enforce rules of "no collusion" between companies. Sounds dandy, but in what world does he live in that America actively breaks up monopolies/discourages cronyism and corruption/enforces regulation? Not this one! Ever heard of telecommunications companies?

I wish that Brooks' ideas could work. Some of them are quite good. Contempt is bad for everyone. And yes, we should stop being contemptuous of each other and learn to disagree better. But that's a damn privileged position to take when people's rights and lives are at risk. Brooks, who has worked in a conservative think tank in Washington for the last 25 years is so far disconnected from what the world is actually like.

Finally, the book wasn't even well-written. It was highly repetitive and might have been better as a simple Op-Ed as opposed to a full-fledged book.

I'm just disappointed--his interview on NPR was great. His book? Not so much.

PS--His first acknowledgment is Marc Thiessen. He then proceeds to thank the Betsy DeVos Foundation. That pretty much sums up the entirety of the book.
1,645 reviews92 followers
February 18, 2021
Brooks, a prominent voice in moderate conservative politics, calls for civility and respect in the public exchange of ideas. I could not agree more with his assessment of our contemporary culture of contempt. He claims that we have reached a point of vitriol and contempt in politics that is unhealthy for society and for the individuals engaged. He calls for a climate in which opposing ideas can be argued without derogative name calling, impugning selfish or evil motivations, automatic disqualifying of the other’s thesis or any other insults. He cites the research of sociologists, psychologists, philosophers and religious leaders to demonstrate the harm caused by a refusal to treat others with respect and look for common ground. He offers practical, common sense behaviors that every reader should adopt to counter the current vitriol. I could not agree more with his thesis. I do not have sufficient background to evaluate the research he sites and I am not sure I would always come to the same conclusions in the short range. But I think every person should read this book. We need to turn things around before we self-destruct. 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Heather.
1,003 reviews7 followers
April 21, 2019
This is a fantastic book! Arthur Brooks is calling on all of us to stand up and help change the culture in our country today. We live in a culture of contempt. We need kindness and love. We need to see people as people, hear their stories, disagree better, and seek truth and love together. Here are some great quotes:

"'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bounds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature' (Abraham Lincoln, p. vii)."

"To me, politics is like the weather. It changes a lot, people drone on about it constantly, and 'good' is totally subjective. I like winter, you like summer; you're a liberal, I'm a conservative.... While politics is like the weather, ideas are like the climate. Climate has a big impact on the weather, but it's not the same thing. Similarly, ideas affect politics, but they aren't the same (p. 1)."

"Political differences are ripping our country apart, rendering my big, fancy policy ideas largely superfluous. Political scientists find that our nation is more polarized than it has been since the Civil War (p. 2)."

"I love meeting people and sharing ideas (p. 2)."

"We are being driven apart (p. 4)."

"We need national healing every bit as much as economic growth. But what are we getting instead...? Across the political spectrum, people in positions of power and influence are setting us against one another. They tell us our neighbors who disagree with us politically are ruining our country... In the very moment in which America most needs to come together as a nation...we are being torn apart, thoughtlessly and needlessly. We are living in a culture of contempt. We need to fight back. But how (p. 5)?"

"'All lives matter!... If we really want to make America great, we do it together (p. 7)!'"

"'We don't get there by screaming at each other all the time. We get there by building bridges... It's time to bring everybody together, and get everybody to celebrate America together... We need to set a new standard... It's time that people shake hands and agree to disagree. And if people can't do that this country is going to fall apart (p. 9).'"

"'Unity is what is going to make the world a better place for all (p. 10).'"

"Contempt...anger mixed with disgust (p. 10)."

"The choice between either political ideology or our friends and family, so often peddled by leaders today, is a false choice (p. 11)."

"This message of kindness in the face of contempt is one that resonates widely (p. 11)."

"'What do I do when I feel contempt?'... 'Practice warm-heartedness (p. 11).'"

"Love. And not just love for friends and those who agree with me, but rather, love for those who disagree with me as well (p. 13)."

"'Love is not sentimental, nor restful in illusions, but watchful, alert, and ready to follow evidence. It seeks the real as lungs crave air (p. 13).'"

"You should never be anonymous or engage with anonymous interlocutors. Engagement with love is a human endeavor, and requires us to be...real people--not disembodied messages (p. 14)."

"Contempt makes you unhappy, unhealthy, and unattractive even to those who agree with you (p. 15)."

"It's regular citizens acting as leaders who matter most in the battle against the culture of contempt... Famous people purvey it, but ordinary citizens are the ones creating a market for it... We can't wait for our leaders to change; we need to lead the rebellion ourselves. While we can't single-handedly change the country, we can change ourselves. By declaring our independence from the bitterness washing over our nation, each of us can strike a small blow for greater national harmony, and become happier in the process (p. 16)."

"Disagreement--if we do it right--is what makes our country strong (p. 17)."

"What would you do at this point?... Ignore him... Insult him... Destroy him... Few other options come to ind when we're confronted with disagreement. Notice that they all grow from the same root: contempt (p. 20)."

"A majority of Republicans and Democrats today suffer from a level of motive attribution asymmetry that is comparable to that of Palestinians and Israelis (p. 21)."

"We may not be engaging in daily violence against each other, but we can't make progress as a society when both sides believe that they are motivated by love while the other side is motivated by hate (p. 22)."

"The pandemic of contempt in political matters makes it impossible for people of opposing views to work together (p. 24)."

"Unless we hope to become a one-party state, we cannot afford contempt for our fellow Americans who simply disagree with us (p. 24)."

"The vast majority of Americans on the other side of the ideological divide are not terrorists or criminals. They are people like us who happen to see certain contentious issues differently. When we treat our fellow Americans as enemies, we lose friendships, and thus, love and happiness (p. 25)."

"Being treated with contempt takes a measurable physical toll (p. 26)."

"Not a day goes by when someone doesn't bemoan the fact that we are coming apart as a country, unable to have a respectful airing of political views like civilized adults. People are exhausted (p. 26)."

"We wish our national debates were nutritious and substantive, but we have an insatiable craving for insults to the other side (p. 29)."

"Social media intensifies our addiction by allowing us to filter out the news and opinions we disagree with, thus purifying the contempt drug (p. 30)."

"'Ideological siloing' means we stop interacting entirely with those who hold opposing views... The results of not knowing people of opposing viewpoints and seeing them only through the lens of hostile media is predictable... as we become less exposed to opposing viewpoints, we become less logically competent as people (p. 30)."

"Like us, [Congress] are victims of America's political contempt addiction (p. 32)."

"Contempt is driving us apart and making us miserable. It is holding us hostage (p. 33)."

"He simply learned that he liked me because I had taken the time to read his email and was nice in the way I responded.... The cycle of contempt depended on me, and I broke it with just a few words of gratitude. Doing so felt great for me, and it changed another person's heart. I saw firsthand that contempt transmuted into friendliness when it was met with an overt expression of kindness and respect... Kindness, reconciliation, and connection--not contempt, division, and isolation--are what our hearts really desire (p. 34)."

"Simply having a friend you see on most days gives the equivalent happiness boost of earning an additional $100,000 of income each year. Seeing your neighbors on a regular basis gives as much happiness as an extra $60,000 (p. 35)."

"In his farewell address, George Washington famously warned against 'the baneful effects' of political enmity (p. 37)."

"Contempt crowds out love because it becomes our focus (p. 37)."

"We want love. How do we get it? We have to start by saying that it is what we really want (p. 38)."

"We want love, kindness, and respect. But we have to ask for it, choose it. It's hard; we are prideful, and contempt can give a sense of short-term purpose and satisfaction... But...we can choose what we truly want, as individuals and as a nation (p. 39)."

"1. Focus on other people's distress, and focus on it empathetically....
2. In your interactions with others, particularly in areas of disagreement...make sure you offer five positive comments for every criticism....
3. No contempt is ever justified...
4. Go where people disagree with you and learn from them (p. 39)."

"Warm-heartedness is for strong people, not weak people (p. 41)."

"Kindness and warm-heartedness are the antivenom for the poisonous contempt coursing through the veins of our political discourse (p. 41)."

"I may not agree with you, but what you have to say matters (p. 42)."

"When you're treated with contempt, don't see it as a threat but as an opportunity.... change at least one heart--yours... Respond with kindness (p. 42)."

"Those who practiced kindness came out ahead in all three categories [(1) being sought out for advice; (2) being perceived as a leader; (3) job performance] (p. 50)."

"'The way to influence--and to lead--is to being with warmth (p. 51).'"

"You can afford to be nice (p. 53)."

"There are certain things that happy people do. They get up and move around, get out of the house, engage with other people--and smile (p. 56)."

"'Love is a verb... Serve... Sacrifice... Listen... Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm.... Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self (p. 57).'"

"Show gratitude. Gratitude is, quite simply, a contempt killer (p. 58)."

"The key to being nicer and happier is gratitude (p. 60)."

"To be happier and to be better to others, count your blessings (p. 61)."

"'If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them...But love your enemies...Then your reward will be great (p. 61).'"

"To feel dignified, one must be needed by others. Millions of Americans no longer feel needed--by their families, their communities, the economy, or their country (p. 72)."

"Beyond ruining relationships, coercive leadership also begets mediocrity (p. 76)."

"We can exhibit the kind of leadership we wish to see from our country's public figures (p. 85)."

"Can America persist as a great nation with a population unwilling or unable to set a few standards of right and wrong (p. 88)?"

"Belief in compassion and fairness is encoded into the moral compass of almost all people (p. 94)."

"1. Focus your arguments on the moral values we share--compassion and fairness--rather than those held by only one part of the population (p. 100)."

"It's about more than winning the debate. When we engage those who hold different opinions, we can unite people who may never agree on the specific issue by reminding them that we all agree we want to work for compassion and fairness (p. 100)."

"'I'm not waging war on your moral views (p. 101).'"

"2. Be wary of manipulative leaders in politics and media who use the moral dimensions where we disagree as a wedge to divide us and fuel contempt (p. 102)."

"3. Divergent moral values are not a bug in the human system. They are a feature that can make us stronger (p. 103)."

"The starkest dividing line in America today is not race, religion, or economic status, but rather party affiliation (p. 104)."

"Engagement to people with different moral values has given me the power not to be offended, even if others are seeking to offend (p. 105)."

"Think deeply. Listen to the other side. Reflect on what others are saying (p. 106)."

"We should be more like the tax collector who, Luke tells us, 'would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner (p. 107).'"

"Our tools for establishing and ascertaining identity have become extremely efficient and have changed fundamental aspects of our social lives (p. 110)."

"They were real people with real human stories, not just a demographic identity... When people are reduced to a set of fixed group characteristics, rather than appreciated as individuals with shared humanity, unity is undermined and contempt is made that much easier to express (p. 114)."

"Identity obscures as much as it illuminates (p. 115)."

"Coming face-to-face with people who hold discriminatory attitudes often breaks down their bigotry (p. 116)."

"'I think people are not only not building bridges anymore, I think they're blowing them up and then taking hard stances.... The danger of othering...is that we end up making caricatures of others because we never come into contact with them (p. 120)."

"A hug unifies and says, 'We are both people with dignity, capable of love (p. 121).'"

"Achieving harmony doesn't happen by itself; it takes skill and work (p. 123)."

"Forcing people together but emphasizing our differences can be toxic. However, if we bring people together and emphasize our common stories, we can discover the new and broader 'we' required to overcome mutual contempt (p. 124)."

"Connection is found when we view one another as individuals with stories and dignity, just like ourselves (p. 128)."

"Unity requires us to see one another as people first and foremost (p. 128)."

"When we encounter one another as individuals and tell our stories, we overwhelm contempt with something more powerful: love (p. 128)."

"When you tell somebody--even a stranger--a story about yourself that he can relate to, that relating induces people to produce oxytocin, which makes the person literally feel a bit of love for you. In the same way, you can love strangers a little more by listening to their stories (p. 138)."

"When human stories are present, good things happen. But the opposite is also true: a storyless person disappears (p. 140)."

"I often reflect on how differently people act when they drive, encased in a car and thus anonymous, compared with the way they act when they walk on the street (p. 144)."

"My [BYU] briefcase told a story that prevented me from acting anonymously. True, the story it gave me was not genuinely my own, but it humanized me nonetheless--and improved my behavior (p. 146)."

"When you're on a first date, slip in the question, 'Do you have an anonymous Twitter account?' If the person says yes, say no to a second date (p. 147)."

"Repudiate anonymity and be yourself online. Make a commitment today to never be anonymous or say anything anonymously... Anonymity is a cancer that is wrecking our country, because it obliterates our ability to understand one another through authentic human stories (p. 148)."

"If you are doing work that helps others, you should spend time among the people you are working to help (p. 150)."

"It's not just other people's stories we need to seek out and share. You and I need to tell our own as well (p. 150)."

"Once you have your story in twelve words so that you understand it yourself, start sharing it with other people, so they understand you (p. 151)."

"The lack of competition posed an existential threat to the sport... Only when there is fierce competition are people interested in watching the game (p. 155)."

"Rules in sports--clear and impartial--provide needed structure and make things fair... True competition requires voluntary cooperation with the rules (p. 158)."

"Competition, properly understood and practiced, unites people (p. 159)."

"They love competition, because they love improvement and winning against worthy market opponents (p. 161)."

"America's nearly universal admiration for earned success distinguishes this country from most other countries... 'In the United States, the people have no hatred for the elevated classes of society, and...they do not fear great talents (Alexis de Tocqueville, p. 163).'"

"To develop excellent ideas, we need competing ideas (p. 164)."

"We all want a safer, fairer, more prosperous country. We jut disagree on how to achieve that aim (p. 165)."

"We may disagree--we should disagree--over how best to achieve safety, prosperity, and happiness for the most people, and we should compete over the best way to help all people build better lives. To do so, however, we must maintain the shared objectives and moral core around which a true competition of ideas should radiate (p. 170)."

"Tolerance and civility are too low a standard for a great country based on competitive excellence (p. 172)."

"Aristotle wrote that there were three kinds of friendship: The first and lowest form of friendship is that based on utility, wherein both people derive some benefit from each other... The next level of friendship...is based on pleasure; both people are drawn to the other's wit, intelligence, talent, good looks, or other attractive qualities... The highest form of friendship--the 'perfect friendship' in Aristotle's telling--is one based on willing the good of the other and a shared sense of what is virtuous and true (p. 177)."

"God...must be the most important thing in either person's life--not the husband or wife (p. 181)."

"'I see [Robby] as my friend and someone who has...a right to be wrong... We agree on almost nothing.... What Professor West and I are about is conversations--getting at the truth, not just find a way to agree, or a way to avoid difficult issues on which people disagree. But to have a conversation--a conversation whose aim is getting both of the interlocutors, or everybody concerned, a little nearer the truth (p. 181).'"

"'Our willingness to listen to and respectfully engage those with whom we disagree (especially about matters of profound importance) contributes vitally to the maintenance of a milieu in which people feel free to speak their minds, consider unpopular positions, and explore lines of argument that may undercut established ways of thinking. Such an ethos protects us against dogmatism and groupthink, both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies (p. 183).'"

"Disagreement is just another way of saying 'competition of ideas (p. 183).'"

"Each of us needs that kind of friendship so as to learn and practice the skill of disagreement in a spirit of love and warm-heartedness (p. 185)."

"If you are committed to better disagreement, you generally need a wider circle of friends... That means going places outside your traditional circles and making the effort to get to know people with different values in a deep way (p. 186)."

"Don't attack or insult. Don't even try to win (p. 187)."

"Never assume the motives of another person (p. 192)."

"Use your values as a gift, not a weapon (p. 195)."

"'The maintenance of a free and democratic society requires the cultivation and practice of the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth (p. 199).'"

"What is the cure for our culture of contempt?... It's not civility or tolerance... It is love for one another and our country. Love is the 'why' of the leaders that can bring America back together, and of all of us in our families and communities (p. 202)."

"I'm asking you to join me and work to subvert the prevailing culture of contempt as a radical for love and decency (p. 203)."

"Rebellion comes in one of two forms. The first is passive: tuning these manipulators out... The second form is active--and harder: Stand up to people on your own side who trash people on the other side (p. 204)."

"Escape the bubble. Go where you're not invited, and say things people don't expect (p. 205)."

"Do I hear diverse viewpoints (p. 205)?"

"Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it's difficult (p. 206)."

"Work to inspire others with a vision of hope and a model of inclusiveness toward others' ideas (p. 208)."

"Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas (p. 209)."

"The single biggest way a subversive can change America is not by disagreeing less, but by disagreeing better--engaging in earnest debate while still treating everyone with love and respect (p. 210)."

"Tune out: Disconnect more from the unproductive debates (p. 210)."

"Obliterate your silos by listening, reading, and watching media on the 'other side.'.... Want to get really radical? Stop talking and thinking about politics entirely for a while. Do a politics cleanse (p. 211)."

"Resolve to pay attention to ideas, not just politics (p. 212)."

"Go find someone with whom you disagree; listen thoughtfully; and treat him or her with respect and love. The rest will flow naturally from there (p. 213)."

"You know what our world needs: more love, less contempt (p. 214)."
198 reviews6 followers
April 11, 2019
So I was very skeptical about reading this book, in large part because I can't help being very suspicious of anyone who has served as president of the American Enterprise Institute. Also, I feel like Brigham Young University (my employer) loves Arthur Brooks, and for some reason that kind of annoys me and heightens my suspicion of him. But it's a book about building bridges (and promoting understanding), which is a large part of my profession, and I was intrigued after hearing an interview Brooks did about the book, so I thought I'd give it a chance. And I've gotta admit, I really liked it. Of course, as a white guy reading the advice of another white guy about how to solve some of society's problems, I realize that I have blindspots and biases that may prevent me from seeing things that others with different life experiences may see. But I found it hard to disagree with his fundamental message about needing to love each other -- not just tolerate each other -- and that we can do that by, among other things, getting to know people who are different than us.
Profile Image for Betsy.
115 reviews23 followers
January 4, 2022
Love Your Enemies, by Arthur Brooks is one of my top two non-fiction books from this year.

Written in 2019, he addresses the culture of contempt that has become so commonplace in our communication, especially online.
It is not an easy topic, but I loved the way Brooks wrote - he seems to have a lot of joie de vivre.

Part of the book talks about John Gottman’s research related to contempt in marriage. Brooks takes these principles, and asks the reader to apply them toward a broader range of relationships, and to see the humanity and personhood of people you disagree with politically or on issues.

Like me, he grew up in a liberal city, but is a political conservative, and I appreciated his observations on being in a community with viewpoint diversity.
708 reviews4 followers
March 11, 2020
The author makes some good points on how to go about reestablishing lines of civil communication with whom we strongly disagree. However, he falls into the trap of making false equivalencies. Apparently, in the author's view, we all want more or less the same thing for this country, but just have different viewpoints on how to get there. But this philosophy works in the abstract, not in the real world, where the consequences of policies espoused and carried out by the leaders supported by those with whom we disagree affect our jobs, our lives and the future of this country.
Profile Image for Adam.
890 reviews21 followers
November 14, 2019
I hate coming across a book that I want people to read so badly that I don't know how to write a review of it. Like, I want this review to be perfectly persuadable so people that wouldn't normally read this book give it a chance. I have been a fan of Arthur C. Brooks for a number of years after hearing him speak. He is doing wonderful work and I hope continued success for him and his mission. I, at heart, am a peacemaker. I loooove helping build bridges and people who don't normally talk start talking. I hate how this country has so much contempt for each other. It baffles my mind when I see people that are good, moral, upstanding citizens say things like, "Politics isn't about morality anymore." I feel like this book is a fabulous immunization shot against political contempt. I hope people will read it more so we can go back to actually having conversations with people we don't agree with. It seems we are slightly better now than we were 3 years ago. But I fear that with the upcoming presidential election we will go through the same dirty process of contempt-filled vitriol that makes zero sense and poisons us for another handful of years. Anyway, I don't want to just go off in an echo-chamber of my own review. I feel inspired after reading this book to go and find people I disagree with and practice engaging in respectful dialogue of ideas and help people see the strength in respect.

4.5 stars, but I'm giving it 5 because I think it should be read by pretty much everyone in America (and the UK) right now. I'm surprised that in all the disagreement, presidential contempt, and competition of ideas that Lincoln's cabinet was never mentioned. Didn't he personally appoint people of all parties/perspectives so that he could literally have competition for the best solutions? Wouldn't it be wild if a politician based his platform on that promise? America would wash him out in the first debate, but it would be so cool!
Profile Image for Kris.
1,374 reviews179 followers
October 1, 2021
Brooks is so optimistic. I knew he would be, having read The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America. But it continues here. He puts so much faith in people's ability to be nice to each other. I get that he is trying to humanize our discourse. His points are valid. But being not much of a "feelings" person myself, his voice and arguments never resonate with me as much as other books.

Like Amy says, I don't think this book "does" much. Read Amy's review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Related books:
--Them: Why We Hate Each Other - and How to Heal
--Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America
--Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage
--Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy
Profile Image for Timothy Hall.
Author 13 books19 followers
April 10, 2019
A bracing challenge to the contempt-mongers in current political life, who believe their own actions are motivated by benevolence and those of their political opponents are based on hate. This book by a prominent conservative spokesman will probably not influence liberals to stand down from today's "culture of contempt," since it centers its main argument in the value of a competition of ideas. But it will be worthwhile if it persuades any significant number of conservatives to retreat from tribal ideologies and abandon the falsehood that their political opponents are invariably immoral enemies.
Profile Image for Steve.
990 reviews46 followers
May 24, 2019
As far as I’m concerned this should be considered obvious, common-sense human decency. But obviously it isn’t. Well written, I think a bit better than Van Jones’ “Beyond the Messy Truth” which I’d put in exactly the same category. But both books would be perfectly understandable to a high school student, I think - I’d like to read something in this vein that was just a bit deeper.

All that being said, I sure wish I lived in a world where a greater percentage of politicians, pundits, and other leaders subscribed to the ideas in these books.
Profile Image for Wesley Morgan.
248 reviews10 followers
April 29, 2023
I would recommend this book to every single person in the world. If you hate politics and wish people would stop fighting about it so much, you will love this book. If you love politics, and wish people would just agree with you more, you should also read this book.

As just one example, here's an excerpt from the last chapter, where he summarizes his advice. The first point is "Refuse to be used by the powerful." He says:
"Think for a second about a manipulative leader--someone you know of who really uses people's hatred for his or her own goals of money, power, or fame. Got the image in your head? Well, guess what? You have the wrong image, because that's someone you dislike. You are thinking of someone who might use others, but who can't use you, because you already see through him or her. The right image of a powerful manipulator is someone on your side of the debate...who never challenges your biases."

So much of the book is aimed at getting you to stop being angry with other people and examine your own biases. It invites us to remember that we will only accomplish things together, and if we don't learn to get along soon, our country will be in trouble.

My only complaint is that Arthur C. Brooks is not running for president. I am sure he is doing a lot of good through his writing and his think tanking. But I do wish he put his hat in the arena and show people what a leader looks like who can put these principles into practice, who can disagree without demonizing. We need leaders who recognize that diversity, in thought and identity, is one of America's strength, and loving others is not a weakness.

We all need more connection, and less contempt, and if you want to learn more about what that means, read this book.
Profile Image for Miles Smith .
1,059 reviews38 followers
May 12, 2022
I've always respected Arthur Brooks, so I was surprised at just how fundamentally ignorant he was regarding the societal moment. As funny as it may sound, this is one of the most unfortunate books I've ever read, but I still would recommend you read if for no other reason than to understand how blinded some are by neoliberalism.
84 reviews
May 10, 2019
Excellent. Essentially a secular presentation of Romans 12. If you're already an evangelical Christian, you'll recognize 90% of the book in the New Testament's teachings and the life of Christ.
Profile Image for Letitia.
1,096 reviews86 followers
April 26, 2020
I have a LOT of thoughts about Arthur Brooks book…probably too many to fit into a review. So I will keep this broad, but it is entirely likely that I will pen essays dealing with some of the specific points he raises.

Overall: this is what I feared it would be, and hoped it wouldn’t. The perspective of an aging, white man who thinks he can solve conflict by being a moderate Republican and quoting Martin Luther King Jr to prove he’s “not like THOSE white guys…” It both misses the point and exacerbates the argument of those who are begging… pleading… for something more substantive from our political discourse. It is steeped in scripture and assumptions about what the reader will value, so approach with caution and understand that the writer is a Catholic American who assumes that you will espouse the same worldview he does.

Firstly, I should mention that there are some points on which I agree completely with Mr. Brooks. I agree that contempt is something we should seek to eradicate from not only our political, but personal discourse. I agree that the dehumanization and adoption of the deindividuation mentality is responsible for much societal division, disagreement, and logical fallacies, not to mention violence. I agree that we should seek out diverse opinions that challenge our positions and engage honestly with them. I agree that all sides leverage ad hominem and straw man fallacies when combating alternative viewpoints. I agree that someone’s political affiliation should not be a criterion for an honest interaction.

But Mr. Brooks’ overall thesis that simply reaching out, listening, and loving the other will solve America’s woes seems at best out of touch. He seems completely unaware of the substantive conflicts that exist in the various factions of American politics, attributing them instead to moodiness, social media, being addicted to feeling outraged, and identity politics. Head. Desk. Missed. The. Point.

It is disappointing to read something so naïve by someone so highly educated, who is not only a policy analyst of some standing in DC, but a director of a Think Tank. While I am sure his heart is in the right place, he is quite incapable of analyzing his own fallacies, and relies heavily on scripture to convince an audience that he assumes agrees with his premises (i.e. America=good : patriotism=virtuous). He goes from bemoaning the lack of moral compass in “young folks these days” to criticizing presidential candidates for daring to make moral valuations and doesn’t seem to recognize the irony. He is appalled that Democrats so often claim sexual behaviors don’t matter yet engage in just as “moral” of activities as Republicans. Hm. Maybe it’s not how moral you are; it’s how judgy. He asserts that listening to someone with kindness and respect leads to de facto reconciliation, apparently never having had the conversations I have had with people who, the longer I talked to them, revealed more and more truth about their own racial bias, internalized bigotry, sexism, and dismissal of “the poors.” Especially if “the poors” were dark-skinned. I’m glad he’s never had those conversations. But I’ve had far too many. His perspective seems myopic and elitist to those of us who are the front lines of these rhetoric wars. And while I genuinely believe that he genuinely believes his policies are based on compassion and best practices to lift people out of poverty, they ring far too familiarly of the white male meritocracy. “Just try harder; it will work out.”

As to what I disagree with in its substance, beyond just his intent:
I disagree that principle matters more than economics. I think this argument comes from a place of privilege and financial security. I disagree that what fundamentally separates conservatives and liberals is solely rhetoric. I disagree that reasoning honestly with someone leads to a change of heart and a personal connection (been there, tried that, failed multiple times to find common ground). I disagree that political moderation is either laudable or a path to expediency. I disagree that social media is highly responsible for division and bigotry (the Spanish Inquisition didn’t need Reddit…the KKK didn’t need 4Chan…The Holocaust didn’t need Facebook). I disagree that decency is equivalent to patriotism. I disagree that an increase in people who say they would NOT marry someone from the opposing party is indicative of decreasing tolerance (I think it is, rather, indicative of an increasingly polarizing party platform and a knowledge that association with the opposing party indicates support for positions I find morally repugnant). I disagree that you have solved American partisanship.

I don’t fault him for trying. We all are, in our own way and to varying degrees. This is one perspective and is valid for what it is: one man’s take on why folks just don’t get along anymore. But it is not as insightful nor broadly applicable as Mr. Brooks seems to believe, and veers to the trite for much of the text. Would I get a drink with him and expect us to get along? Absolutely. I’ve made many friends in the political world who remind me much of Mr. Brooks. But would I turn to him as an authority on dissecting what is really dividing Americans? Not even a little bit. Cheers.

Profile Image for George P..
549 reviews53 followers
April 16, 2019
Arthur C. Brooks opens Love Your Enemies with a personal anecdote about a speech he gave to conservative activists in New Hampshire. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank, so the audience for the speech was “an ideological home-field crowd” for him. Among other things, he talked about how the American public perceives liberals as “compassionate and empathetic” and argued that conservatives should earn that reputation too.

After the speech, an unhappy women approached him and castigated him for being too nice to liberals. “They are not compassionate and empathetic,” she argued. “They are stupid and evil.”

Stupid and evil. Although a conservative voiced the words, the sentiment is common on the other side of the political spectrum too. A November 2018 Axios poll found that roughly the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans viewed the other party as “ignorant” (54 and 49 percent, respectively) and “evil” (21 and 23 percent, respectively). Even worse, “The share of Americans who have more generous impressions is roughly equal to the poll’s margin of error, which is 3%.”

According to Brooks, this denigration of the other side reflects more than anger or incivility. It reflects a pervasive “culture of contempt,” contempt being defined as “anger mixed with disgust.” Or, as Arthur Schopenhauer put it, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

In such a culture, what is needed most is not tolerance or civility, as important as those practices are. Rather, Brooks argue, what is needed most is love, especially love for one’s enemies. Following Thomas Aquinas, Brooks defines love as “to will the good of the other.” Love doesn’t mean setting aside facts and compromising in some mushy middle. But it does require remembering that while “their views might be [worthy of contempt], no person is.”

Although Brooks is president of a secular think tank and his book is pitched at a broad audience, his is a fundamentally Christian insight. (Brooks himself is Catholic.) The book’s title comes directly from Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 5:44. That being said, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry, but an exercise in the application of enemy-love to American public discourse.

Along the way, Brooks outlines the features of our culture of contempt, asks whether we can afford to be nice, gives love lessons for leaders, shows how we can love our enemies even if they’re immoral, identifies why identity politics is both powerful and perilous, asks whether competition is a problem, and encourages people to disagree with one another — though without contempt, of course. Throughout, he uses anecdotes and contemporary social science to make his points. The resulting case for love in the public square is both convincing and well worth reading.

Love Your Enemies covers a lot of ground, so Brooks helpfully concludes the book with “Five Rules to Subvert the Culture of Contempt”:

1. Stand up to the Man. Refuse to be used by the powerful.

2. Escape the bubble. Go where you’re not invited and say things people don’t expect.

3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult.

4. Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas.

5. Tune out. Disconnect more from the unproductive debates.

As noted above, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry. I read this book as a Christian minister, however, and can’t help but see its salience to Christian readers and leaders. So, I close my review with an exhortation to them:

Christ commands us to love our enemies. There’s no carve-out when the “enemy” is on the other side from us religiously, culturally or politically. There’s no exception clause for those moments when an election is on the line. Loving our enemies is simply what Christians do for others because it’s what Christ did for us. So, let’s do it. It’s the right thing to do, and if Brooks is right, it’s also the most socially beneficial thing we can do in our nation’s roiling culture of contempt.

Book Reviewed
Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt (New York: Broadside Books, 2019).

P.S. If you like my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.
Profile Image for thethousanderclub.
298 reviews20 followers
October 22, 2020
Years ago I used to scoff at the accusation that our time was the most divisive since the Civil War. I quickly recalled historical occurrences of incivility—violence during the federalist and anti-federalist debates or guffaws during Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union speeches. Our time is no different, I reasoned. (I realize now that this historical reasoning is stupid; pointing to episodes of violence or disrespect in the past does nothing to validate similar behavior today). I feel deep down in my gut that something has changed in our political and civic culture. And that change is ugly, unhelpful, and potentially destructive. Having listened to Arthur C. Brooks' excellent speech at BYU, I felt impressed to read his book to bolster my own conviction that there must be a better way.

Most surprising of all is that Brooks asserts civility is not enough. We aren't to practice civility with our enemies but to love them. Perhaps the most fascinating, and for me the most memorable, argument Brooks makes is that of contempt. Anger in a marriage, Brooks writes, is not the final off-ramp to divorce. Anger, although often unhelpful, shows a sincere dissatisfaction with someone else because we believe they can do better. Contempt, on the other hand, suggests something much, much different. It suggests we see the other party as beyond repair or salvation. Brooks argues very persuasively that we are embroiled and consumed with a culture of contempt, and we just might be consumed by it.

An important point made by Brooks is that we don't need to argue less; we just need to do it better. I think this is a deep, deep point—not to be dismissed with cynical distrust or pessimistic fatalism. Of course, there are plenty of political opponents who disagree poorly, which is why it's so critical someone leads out and paves a path back through and to civility. And who is that someone? Brooks argues it should be us, meaning all of us. Politics has so thoroughly infected our reasoning and biases that personal actions which have nothing to do with politics have become inexcusable ideological offenses to some and badges of courage to others. How do we reclaim our political and civic environment from nefarious and self-interested parties who seek to drive us further and further apart? How do we keep politics from destroying our humanity and the humanity we see in others?

Brooks offers a host of reasons for why and how we've gotten to our current perilous predicament. Some explanations are more persuasive than others; regardless, I think the key point is recognizing we truly are in that predicament, which is something I rejected only a few years ago. On this front, I think Brooks does a nice job convincing the reader to at least be concerned, even if they don't agree with the specific symptoms. Furthermore, the title of the book makes clear the painfully difficult but unavoidable solution: love your enemies. This has become so difficult, even politically heretical, because the rhetoric from all sides of just about every debate soars on the gaudy wings of hyperbole. "Evil" (also Nazi, Hitler, [insert horrible epithet]) is a word so flippantly used that loving an enemy becomes—at least rhetorically—impossible; how can you love something that is evil? I think Brooks makes a compelling case for lowering the temperature in the room, practicing temperance in our communications, and appreciating that political enemies are more often not evil but mistaken. (Assuming we're correct!)

I felt impressed to read Love Your Enemies because I have felt overwhelmed and disturbed by our current political environment. I want to do something, anything, to help nudge things in the right direction. Reading this book and sharing it with others feels like such a feckless thing to do in the midst of such incredible pessimism, anger, and antipathy. For what it's worth, reading Love Your Enemies was a good reminder to try and do exactly that—love my enemies. We must improve the civic, cultural, and political conversation in our country; we must push back against the culture of contempt. We must learn how to love our enemies.

315 reviews9 followers
July 12, 2020
I’m probably giving this five stars because the message in this book resonates so strongly in our current divisive climate. Whether you strongly support #blacklivesmatter or #alllivesmatter or you support Trump or Biden or whomever, we would all do well to internalize the message in this book. Read it. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,584 reviews79 followers
August 6, 2019
Over the last 25 years, I've been learning, growing, and evolving in my ability and understanding of peacemaking. That evolution began with my training and practice as a mediator, then with explorations into the practices of dialogue, and finally with my efforts at my college to help the students in our leadership development program understand that leadership effectiveness isn't just about business success, but is more about positive impact on others.

Along the way, I have collected various books and articles about how best to accomplish those goals. One that I have added to my library is Brooks' Love Your Enemies. In a world and society that Brooks (rightfully, I think) characterizes as increasingly laboring under a "culture of contempt," we desperately need a new way of addressing the conflicts, disharmonies, and hatreds that have divided us...and that are conquering us. It seems to me that everywhere I turn I see little but people yelling about how anyone different from them is evil, moronic, and unredeemable. I saw that even in some of the low-star reviews of this book (drivel? really? where is the logic and insight to support that assessment?).

Regardless of your political persuasion, faith (or non-faith) tradition, or other personal perspectives, it seems to me that Brooks' ideas are worth thoughtful consideration and action. Such insights as eliminating contempt for the other, avoiding confirmation bias, steering clear of mob action (even online mobs), and humanizing ideological opposites are all helpful in ways that their destructive opposites can never hope to be.

My own experience teaching and working to adopt dialogic approaches to conflict resolution (whether at the level of one-on-one disputes, communities, or nations) argues for avoiding the adoption of victimhood, or villainizing another, or even falling into the mendacity of helplessness. Too often we want politicians to wave a magic wand and make it all go away, or churches or other institutions, but I am increasingly convinced that real change will only happen at the individual level as we treat others with ideas and values different from our own with dignity, respect, forbearance, and a desire to understand rather than to prevail. It seems to me that Brooks agrees, and has provided some helpful counsel if only we will listen and act on it.
Profile Image for Tyler Critchfield.
193 reviews7 followers
June 22, 2020
"Almost no one is ever insulted into agreement."

Incredible. Arthur Brooks spoke at my graduation commencement and shared some of these thoughts with us - I was captivated then and I'm still hooked. This book is a must-read. Despite coming out just last year, this book is even more applicable now in 2020 (and we haven't even hit election season yet). Brooks calls for a revolution of loving those with whom we disagree. This is done not by avoiding disagreement, but by fundamentally changing how we see and interact with others. We can only do this if we get out of our ideological bubble, get to know those with whom we disagree, and say no to contempt. We have much more in common than we realize, including fundamental moral foundations that drive us, like compassion for others who are less fortunate and fighting against injustice. Conservatives and liberals just tend to express those morals differently. When we disagree about issues, we are often arguing "what" or "how" instead of "why." Understanding this can help us become more unified with our disagreements and actually have productive dialogue that leads to positive reform and progress. 

Put another way, if I am passionate about a cause and my #1 goal is to further that cause (be that a political candidate, social reform, or economic legislation), I can't afford to use contempt. To further my cause, I need more people helping on my team. If I belittle others with sarcasm or contempt in order to get more of a following on social media, I will look better in front of those who agree with me, but I will have lost an opportunity to develop an ally and a friend. If someone is insulted, they are more likely to become more firm in their views. If we want them to change their mind or at least see our point of view on something, we cannot use contempt. There is a better way. And in this process, our lives are enriched as we come to know and love others from all different backgrounds and viewpoints. 
Profile Image for Kim.
62 reviews1 follower
November 8, 2019
I almost never give 5 stars, but I really loved this book. Being so very tired of the political divide in our country and not seeing an end in sight, where I can almost begin to imagine another civil war, to say I've been discouraged by the rhetoric would be an understatement. I am reminded and encouraged that it begins with me. I'm never going to be the face of a movement, but hopefully I can at least contribute to a proper and healthy discussion with others so that both sides are sharpened and maybe more compassionate to each other's points of view. I hope many, many people read this book and are also moved to be loving rather than contemptuous toward one another.
Profile Image for Vance.
160 reviews654 followers
April 6, 2019
Arthur Brooks provides a good overview of the disconnect and contempt we have too often for those not in our tribe.

He provides practical recommendations on how to improve this situation. We should talk to one another more and not stay in our ideological bubble so we get to know others. and not build up contempt but rather focus on loving one another.

This is an essential element in any relationship, as God is love. Let us love one another and battle ideas and not each other. In short, love your enemies.

Check it out for yourself.
Profile Image for Courtney King.
84 reviews11 followers
October 10, 2019
WOW. Adding this one to my list of all-time favorite books.

Everything that Mr. Brooks has to say is so important. If everyone read this book, it would change the world. He makes so many good points and really helped to change my perspective. I felt so inspired to change and be better by the end.

Also, the author is surprisingly funny! His writing and very enjoyable to me.

I plan to read more of Mr. Brooks’ works! And will probably be re-reading this one again soon too!
Profile Image for Trent Mikesell.
1,085 reviews10 followers
June 5, 2022
This was just outstanding. Our country is so divided by politics, and he gives good advice for overcoming these divisions despite our political differences. Personally, I saw the things I do that cause contention (in myself and others), and I'm committed to changing and putting into practice his ideas. A good book for everyone to read.
Profile Image for Raymon.
267 reviews3 followers
October 26, 2019
This book is extremely important. I have listened to his podcast, so some was redundant. I hope I can be different and better because of this book. We must not disagree less, but disagree better.
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