BERLIN – A new program founded by staff at the Berlin-Peck Memorial Library challenges people to learn a better way to have those difficult conversations: the kind that can divide two family members at the holiday table.
Back in Dec. 2020, Adult Services Librarian Anne Henriques read “I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations” written by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers.
“This book was written by the two hosts of Pantsuit Politics, a podcast that focuses largely on political topics,” Henriques said. “The hosts are friends, one a Democrat and one a Republican, who wanted to find a way to discuss political and social issues in a way that was productive rather than the divisive conversations, arguments and debates that often happen on TV, social media, etc.”
The book had quite an impact on Henriques and she began researching how to share it with library patrons.
“I was really struck by the book and immediately thought that teaching these skills and offering a space for these conversations was something that fits with our library’s mission perfectly,” she said. “I also felt that it was important to wait until this program could be held in person, and, to be honest, I was a little intimidated by the idea of doing it.”
Library Adult Services Director Carrie Tyszka and Executive Director Kim McNally jumped on board and the trio has been planning the program ever since.
The very first installment of the Courageous Conversations discussion series is set to take place in a hybrid format, both virtually and in-person on Saturday, Jan. 29 at 10:30 a.m.
Interested participants will be asked to read “I Think You’re Wrong…” or alternatively, “Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations that Work” by Tania Israel.
“If you want people to have productive, respectful conversations, it’s important to start off in a way that will lead you to that goal,” Henriques said. “We felt that it would be helpful to give patrons the option of which book to read, as each one has valuable points to bring to the discussion.”
Library staff will facilitate the conversation, ensuring that all participants have the opportunity to share in the discussion. Group members will look to identify key guidelines from the reading and work through issues, while fine-tuning their ability to manage difficult conversations.
This free program is also being offered virtually to patrons of the Lucy Robbins Welles Library in Newington. Interested participants can call either library to register: Berlin Peck at 860-828-7126 or LRWL at 860-665-8700. Copies of both books are available to pick-up.
“Our plan is to continue the Courageous Conversations program monthly through May, when we’ll evaluate how it’s going and how we want to proceed,” Henriques said. “We have been pleased with the interest so far, but we definitely hope to get the word out to a broader audience because we feel this is such an important step in helping people identify the many things we have in common rather than the things that may seem to divide us.”
While this first gathering will take the form of a book club discussion, staff will provide other types of materials to guide future meetings, including short articles and podcasts on a variety of different topics. February’s topic will be healthcare and March will focus on social safety nets. Future meetings will take place in-person at the library.
“We believe that having these conversations face-to-face is important for building community and connection as we dive into potentially difficult topics,” Henriques said.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.