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A New Road to Hard Conversations


For most of my life I've been an admitted non-fiction snob. Despite an ongoing appetite for learning, new experiences and reflection, I don't consider myself great at focusing when it comes to reading a book so my thinking typically was, if I'm going to commit the time to reading one, I felt it should be about something real. Rather than pure pleasure or escape, I wanted to feel the book had a takeaway. While I have experienced great works of fiction throughout my life, this point of view has governed many of my reading and content choices in recent years.

But something I've heard before, has come back around in a way I hadn't considered. While listening to a Radio Atlantic episode, the panelists talked about current shows on TV like "The Crown" as about someone but also taking creative liberty. They dove deeper on the values of fiction as a way to discuss a topic that is taboo or tough to get through.

During the recent ascent of #MeToo, one area they touched is discussing a particular harassment story such as Aziz Ansari's situation or when we talk about a specific event in our nation's racial history, people may be so caught up in advocating a position, they may lose the ability to see the whole story and debate the issue more broadly. The discussion began to circle around the cover fiction can provide when we are wading into an area that is fraught with pitfalls or difficult to comprehend.

This resonated with me as I have been contemplating for some time now hosting a conversational series at my house designed to get at tough topics like entitlement, privilege, values and more. But if I invite individuals under my roof and start discussing something with heightened emotions and a conflicted history, I run the risk of lines quickly being crossed or guests becoming extremely uncomfortable and conversation becoming hostile or shutting down altogether. While I don't expect conversations like this to be easy, I want them to feel more approachable.

So rather than a personal account or actual news story, a fictional piece may offer us a way to touch on difficult subjects but open people up to them in a way without having to represent a specific event in time. Might this be part of the solution? Might fiction serve a great role for me in this manner? Can I better talk about my experiences, values and hopes through the lens of a fictional story rather than one covering an actual event? I hope so.

And thus is the story of how I softened my take on reading fiction vs. non-fiction.

Go Forth Boldly


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