Tuesday, July 7, 2009
You Don't Have to be Wrong for Me to Be Right
You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism
© 2007 Brad Hirschfield
You Don't Have to be Wrong For Me to Be Right is a very readable book by Brad Hirschfield that on the surface addresses ways in which people who hold firm to religious traditions can get along with one another. His angle is not to interpret various religious texts to fit his views -- indeed, the Bible and Koran are touched on very little. His book is more generally focused on ways that people who hold strong and very personal views on subjects can find common ground -- or at least find a way to hear and respect one another. In Hirschfield's words, "This book is for each of us who feels the continuum of conflict that is part of all of our lives and seems to loom larger for so many of us everyday [...]. We live in a moment of polarized politics, angry rhetoric, and increasing violence, often pushed into the unfair choice between fanatical commitments that make us crazy and openness that is so loose it leaves us lonely. [...] Perhaps it is too much to promise that we can resolve all of our conflicts, but it's not too much to promise that with the right approach we can at least address them more constructively." Separate chapters examine villain/victim dichotomies, empathy, working around disagreements, talking to people rather than talking at them, making judgements without being judgemental, the necessity of idealism, and more. Hirschfield's style is conversational: it was for me a very brief read, but often touching. I found it to be a gentle reminder of ways I've been trying to approach conflict anyway. (I've been thinking a great deal on how to deal with difficult people in an empathetic way: this book addresses that.)
Its appeal to religious audiences seeking a way to communicate is obvious. Although I think more secular readers can enjoy it for its conflict-resolution and interpersonal advice, they would probably enjoy a similar book with a less religious context. For me, the least enjoyable parts of the book were when Hirschfield attempted to explain or justify his peculiar form of Judaism. His attachment to the Orthodox branch is obviously very personal, and his attempt to keep the tradition while living in the modern world evidently puts him through a lot of self-conflict. At one point he confesses that he thinks God will one day give him a slap on the back of the head for not being imaginative enough to reconcile some parts of his religion and life.