The Wisdom You Need to Succeed in a Diverse and Divisive World


Author: Dick Martin
Pub Date: June 2012
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814417522
Page Count: 288
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814417539

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Reader's Guide

The main theme of OtherWise:The Wisdom You Need to Succeed in a Diverse and Divisive World (AMACOM 2012) is that we all need to better understand and empathize with people unlike ourselves, whether they are immigrants, people of a different sexual orientation, partisans of a different political persuasion, or citizens of a different culture.

1.Do you agree with this premise?

• Why does it matter?

• Why shouldn’t those who are different adjust?

• Why isn’t it enough to treat everyone equally?

2.What are the most obvious and important examples of division in American society?

• Is it less, more, or the same as in the past?

• How does it compare to other countries?

• Is it different in other ways?

3.Can you identify any large groups of people who stand outside the mainstream of American life because of their differences?

• Why do you think they have had difficulty breaking into mainstream life?

• Why do some groups have average lower incomes and education?

4.Why is immigration such an increasingly controversial issue in many countries?

• Has immigration been a net positive or negative for the U.S.?

• Why is there so much controversy about it?

• How could U.S. immigration policy be improved?

• Should the number of immigrants be cut back, increased, or stay the same?

5.What should the government do about illegal immigrants?

Is America a country with a single culture or many? How would you describe American culture?

• Should immigrants set aside their home country’s cultural values to adopt America’s?

• What impact has immigration had on American culture over the years?

• What are the minimum expectations people born in the U.S. should have of immigrants?

• What are the minimum expectations immigrants should have of Americans?

6.What’s wrong with living in a homogeneous society where everyone has the same values and beliefs?

• America has historically been a Northern European, Protestant country that allowed others in as long as they learned English, followed our customs, and obeyed our laws. Why should we change?

• Don’t we have to protect ourselves from people like radical Islamists who have already attacked us?

7.Has religious belief been a divisive or unifying force in world history? Why?

• Is America generally a religious country? How is this reflected in people’s personal behavior?

• Does religion play an important role in U.S. politics? Is this positive, negative, or neutral?

• Should people’s personal religious beliefs play a role in their civic life, e.g., how they vote? What about their official duties, e.g., the laws legislators pass or the decisions judges make?

8.Are some beliefs so personal they should remain private and never brought into public discourse? If so, which? If not, why not?

• Is it ever appropriate to ban public displays of certain personal religious belief and practice, e.g., the wearing of veils by Muslim women or the wearing of turbans by Sikhs?

• Is it ever appropriate to ban public displays of affection between people of the same sex?

9. America’s social mores have changed over the last few decades. For example, many people once objected to mothers working outside the home, but today few people have a problem with it. Overall, have changes like that been positive?

• Which changes have been most positive? Which, most negative?

• Do you think attitudes on the most divisive social issues – such as abortion and gay marriage – will go through similar changes?

• What should people do when they have fundamental disagreements on such issues – pretend to agree, avoid the topic, or try to convince the other?

• Do we have an obligation to try to understand the other perspective? What about the other side’s obligation to understand our views?

10.How significant are racial differences in today’s America?

• Do you agree that most of America’s racists are gone, but we still need to deal with the legacy of past racism?

• How does the status of Asians and Hispanics compare to that of African-Americans? Why?

• Do you agree with the concept of “white privilege”? If so, what should a well-intentioned white person do about it?

11.Some people believe that most of us are guilty of unconscious bias. Do you agree?

• If so, how does it show itself?

• Why do you think it exists? Is prejudice the product of our environment or hardwired into our psychology? Or do you think prejudice is usually a conscious decision?

12.Do you think people are less trusting today than they were in the 1960s?

• If so, what accounts for it? If not, why are people so worked up about it?

• Do you agree that greater diversity in a community tends to result in lower civic and social involvement?

• Would it be a net positive or negative if the U.S. had a less diverse population?

• What is the ideal degree of diversity?

13.Do you think that current political divisions in the U.S. are greater than in prior years?

• What do you think accounts for this?

• Is this primarily a local or a national issue? Or does it pervade every level of public life?

• What role do the media play in fostering political divisiveness?

14.Some people believe that digital media make it easier for people to live in an “echo chamber” that constantly confirms and reinforces their beliefs. Others think digital media have democratized access to information? What do you think?

• How have digital media (e.g., the Internet, cell phones, etc.) changed your media habits?

• How are they changing your children’s media consumption?

• To what extent are you regularly exposed to perspectives that are different from your own or that challenge some of your political, social, or religious beliefs?

15.Many evolutionary scientists believe people are hard-wired to live in groups. Do you agree?

• Are social values learned, innate, or both?

• Are all people fundamentally the same or does it depend on where they were raised?

• Are all cultural values equally valid or should some values be universal? For example, should we interfere with other countries’ conception of women’s role in society?

16.Would you object if one of the following people were your child’s school teacher:

• a gay man,

• a lesbian,

• an atheist,

• a person who had changed his or her gender identity,

• a devout Muslim,

• or a person suspected but never indicted for a violent crime that was never solved?

17.Is it better to be open to people of different backgrounds than your own or to be relatively guarded until you’re sure of their intentions? Which comes more naturally to you?

• What do you need to do to be more open?

• How can you better sense their intentions?

• How can you develop and refine your sense of empathy?

18.What are the limits of empathy? How can you balance concern for others with your responsibility to your own family and country?

• If you are sure someone is wrong in their beliefs or lifestyle, isn’t it hypocritical to pretend that you have no issue with it?

• What ethical obligation do you have in such a case?

19.Is there a sense in which you are Other to some group of people?

• In what contexts would you be Other?

• Is being Other strictly a numbers game? Are all members of minority groups “other”?

• How would being Other change your behavior or attitudes?

• Has anyone ever criticized your beliefs or lifestyle? How did you react?

20.How OtherWise are you?

• Do you have any friends of a different race, sexual orientation, religion, or of sharply different political views?

• How can you broaden the diversity of the people in your life?

• How do you react if someone tells you a racist or anti-Semitic joke?

• How can you develop a keener understanding of your own unconscious biases?

To be Otherwise is to understand the ways and whys of our own behavior as well as that of of others.

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