Do Americans argue too much? Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand
and That's Not What I Meant!
, is an expert on miscommunication. In The Argument Culture
she posits that misunderstanding is endemic in our culture because we tend to believe that the best way to a common goal is by thrashing out all our differences as loudly as possible along the way. Thus we are treated to a whole array of confrontational public forums, from congressional partisan politics to media circuses à la Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones, all based on a metaphor of war. What gets lost in all the shouting, Tannen says, is thoughtful debate and real understanding. Perhaps it's time to consider other methods of communication, she suggests. In addition to outlining what she considers the worst excesses of our argument culture, Tannen revisits some of the territory covered in You Just Don't Understand
as she discusses the different ways in which young boys and girls express disagreement or aggression. Finally, she offers a survey of other, mostly non-Western ways of dealing with conflict, including the use of intermediaries and rituals. After reading The Argument Culture
you might never again look at the evening news in the same way.
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From Publishers Weekly
Tannen's bestseller You Just Don't Understand was a guide to gender-based differences in conversational style that set the stage for follow-up titles on talk at the office and in relationships. Here she branches out, applying linguistic theory to the whole compass of American culture and public life. In law, education, multiculturalist policy making and particularly in journalism, Tannen finds that "our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention," and that we thus most often argue emotionally when we should instead be trying to understand and evaluate rationally different points of view. The Georgetown linguistics professor is impatient with journalists who think that a two-sided debate between extremist positions makes the best story. The attack-dog posture of the press, she argues, is responsible for public cynicism about politics. Politicians in turn find that aggressive sound bites are the ones most likely to be publicized. This results in bickering partisanship that disenchants voters. She sharply criticizes our legal system for pitting one party against the other on the theory that justice will emerge out of a survival of the fittest, comparing this type of advocacy to the trials by battle used to settle disputes in the Middle Ages. Tannen's obvious passion for helping people understand one another is well served here by her clear, direct writing. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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