Guzmán, author of "I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times," will deliver the Common Reading Lecture on Sept. 21.
Since 1992, Elon University has selected a book for the Common Reading program that represents the core values of the institution for first-year students to understand what Elon’s principles are.
Finding a book that encapsulates a particular moment, both culturally and on campus, is no small task. However, Mónica Guzmán’s 2022 book, “I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times,” fits the bill.
Guzmán, a bridge builder, journalist and author who “lives for great conversations,” held a Zoom conversation during Planning Week with Elon faculty and staff about the book’s importance in today’s times. As conversations become more partisan and common ground drifts further apart, Guzmán argues that curiosity is the first step in turning the ship.
“That can mean next time you’re in a conversation across some disagreement, ask one more question before you jump in with your opinion,” Guzmán said. “What that does is it gathers more material for your curiosity to do its job and look for what you can learn. It also allows the person you’re speaking with to feel more heard by you which can do wonderful things in a curious conversation.”
Guzmán will deliver the Common Reading Lecture on Thursday, Sept. 21 titled “Curious Questions, Sparking Conversation.” The next day, Guzmán will lead workshops with faculty, staff and students in LaRose Student Commons.
Guzmán said her biggest inspiration for this book was her parents. Coming from a very tight-knit, very politically divided family was instrumental in the writing of this book as she has first-hand experience in having passionate debates with people she loves and respects.
A Democrat who voted for Joe Biden in the last election, Guzmán had unfiltered, intense conversations with her parents who are both Donald Trump supporters. When she would talk to her friends, most of whom are liberal, about her parents’ right-wing leaning, it was met with judgment, which she would take personally.
“That became a big part of my inspiration, taking that personally,” Guzmán said. She became obsessed with studying the political divide and why our political strength is defined by how much we attack the other side.
“I dug up a lot of research and a bunch of it is quite chilling because it shows us that people on either side of the divide assume things about the other side that tend not to be true,” Guzmán said. “We’re not seeing each other for who we really are and we’re not seeing the actual issues that divide us.”
The answer Guzmán came to is not to avoid conflict altogether or to be blindly nice, but to learn how to disagree better.
“[The answer is to learn] how to have the conflict and be brave enough to say what you feel but say it in a way that it can be heard, and then hear other people in a way that they can speak and be honest with you,” Guzmán said. “Because, as I say in the book, if we’re not honest together, are we really together?”
Guzmán is Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels, the nation’s largest cross-partisan grassroots organization working to depolarize America; founder and CEO of Reclaim Curiosity, an organization working to build a more curious world; co-founder of the award-winning Seattle newsletter The Evergrey; and adviser for Starts With Us and the Generations Over Dinner project.
Her Common Reading Lecture is on Thursday, Sept. 21 in Alumni Gym in Koury Athletic Center at 7 p.m. Admission is $15 or an Elon ID. Tickets are available now at elon.edu/boxoffice.
Guzmán is the first guest of the Elon University Speaker Series this year. Visit the series website for more information.