I’ve read so many articles in the past few years on the need to step out of our comfort zones, to see and hear experiences from “the other.” That our nation and world wouldn’t be so divided if we just know people from different backgrounds. That our churches would come together if we were able to bridge opinions over a meal.
I fully agree with these sentiments. Until we sit down with people whose life experiences and worldviews are different from our own, it is too easy to vilify those who think differently. It becomes second-nature to characterize an entire group based on what we see portrayed rather than what we know through relationship.
This is so much easier said than done. How many of us look up people of extremely different political views and ask them out for a coffee? How many of us actively seek out neighbors whose views on immigration, on gun safety, on religious freedom frighten us? It’s hard to do. When I look at my close group of friends, we mostly think alike. We see the nuances as differences but to an outsider, we are pretty homogenous.
I was talking with a friend about how I love to read one-star reviews of books I’m enjoying. Usually close to the halfway point, if I’m really connecting with a book, I’ll check out the really low reviews on Goodreads. It’s always interesting reading why people don’t connect with aspects of a book I love.
Some of the time, low reviews are based on dislike of writing style or format. Those aren’t as interesting as the ones who don’t connect on a personal or moral level. I look for the reviewers who are offended or who just don’t get the point of the book. Recently, I read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and was impacted by his thoughts and perspective of apartheid and oppression. As I read through the one-star reviews, I noticed quite a few people called Noah racist or anti-Semitic. Reading their reviews gave me a new lens for why Noah’s book is so powerful and necessary.
As my friend and I talked about this practice, she pointed out that this is an easy entry into the world of peacemaking. Reading an entire book from an opposing point of view may be too much right now. Sitting at a table and having a meal with someone on the opposite side of an issue may feel too threatening. But reading a review? It takes less than two minutes.
Some reviews totally reinforce my stereotype of certain groups. But I’ve found that the more opposing reviews I read, the fewer people seem like a stereotype. I still may not agree with them. I may even still roll my eyes at the reasoning for dropping a book by a star or two. But my mind is opening up to different sides of an idea.
Maybe this practice will help me when I meet those folks in real life, whose ratings of books and political views are so much different than my own. By exposing myself to one star reviews, I’m taking baby steps toward the everyday peacemaking and activism I long for.
Do you read one-star reviews? What are small ways you practice everyday peacemaking?
We’ll be digging deeper into this idea of reading one-star reviews as an act of peacemaking over in The Red Couch Book Club’s Facebook group. If you’d like to join this discussion as well as other conversations about faith and social justice, I’d love for you to join!