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Group Read Selection

Why Can't We Talk?

Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart

John Backman
Foreword by Kay Lindahl

6 x 9, 176 pp, Quality Paperback


Large Print edition also available from

Learn How to Contribute More Effectively and Compassionately to
the Conversations that Shape Your Life

“Anything could happen when we start to talk. Nothing will happen if we don’t. That alone makes the way of dialogue a journey worth taking.”

—from the Epilogue

Think of an issue that makes your blood boil. Now imagine lunch with a friend who is just as passionate about it—on the other side. How can the two of you even broach the issue, let alone hear each other with curiosity and compassion?

The answer begins long before the lunch does, by learning to engage dialogue as a habit of the heart—an inner transformation that the ancient practices of Christian spirituality can address. This highly readable and timely guide to restoring dialogue shows you how to cultivate this transformation while preparing you to approach your adversaries with curiosity, civility and compassion. With dialogue expert John Backman leading the way, you will:

  • Examine the obstacles that keep you from dialogue: black-and-white thinking, a “distraction lifestyle,” the fear of change and negative impressions from others.
  • Explore the strength of character from which healthy dialogue springs—and the work of the soul that cultivates them.
  • Learn practical guidelines for dialogue and how they work in an imperfect world.
  • Encounter anecdotes of dialogue in action, from resolutions of interpersonal conflict to difficult dialogues on some of the most divisive issues of our age.
  • Use provocative questions at the end of each chapter to stimulate group discussion and individual reflection.

“In an accessible style with plenty of examples ... this practical book will be very useful for study groups, church retreats and Christians of all kinds who want to be peacemakers in their personal, work and political relationships.”

Robert R. Stains, Jr., senior vice president, Public Conversations Project

“Offers a persuasive apologetic for cultivating the soul-force necessary for dialogue. Discover a deeper connection to God and other in exploring the differences in your life—the world needs your willingness to risk learning from ‘opponents.’”

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church; author, Gathering at God’s Table: The Meaning of Mission in the Feast of Faith

“A refreshingly personal and engaging view of dialogue.... By sharing his journey, he encourages readers to consider their own.”

Cassandra Dahnke, co-founder, The Institute for Civility in Government, co-author, Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square—10 Rules That Work

“An enticing and much recommeded addition to self-help and Christian wisdom collections.”

Midwest Book Review

“In a culture that seems more starkly divided by the day, [this book] helps us stop, take a deep spiritual breath and regain our bearings with God. Engaging wisdom and enlightening practices ... show us the way forward together.”

The Rev. Peter Wallace, host of Day1; author, The Passionate Jesus: What We Can Learn from Jesus about Love, Fear, Grief, Joy and Living Authentically

“A breath of fresh air. This book has the power to change the way we relate to others, from personal relationships to global politics. I look forward to using it in parish settings, couples counseling and adult education. Humble, self-reflective, challenging—a great text!”

Carolyne Call, author, Spiritually Healthy Divorce: Navigating Disruption with Insight and Hope

“In a time when we are losing the ability to speak and listen to each other, this book gives us a deeper understanding of the process of dialogue along with the tools to use it. Backman’s theological sensibility provides a strong foundation for moving us out of the imprisonment of polarization.”

Pastor Donald Mackenzie, coauthor, Getting to the Heart of Interfaith: The Eye-Opening, Hope-Filled Friendship of a Pastor, a Rabbi and an Imam and Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith

“Leads us through the often treacherous maze of interpersonal communication with humor, humility and—most importantly—hope.... Reminds us that we are all ultimately at home in the same loving God, who delights both in our individuality and in our efforts—no matter how flawed—to truly listen to and love each other along the way.”

Kristyn Komarnicki, editor, PRISM magazine (

“Insightful.... In an age of weary cynicism ... imparts hope that the seemingly small practice of talking well with one another might heal us and the world.”

Englewood Review of Books

“Challenges our sound-bite culture to abandon partisan diatribes and premeditated monologues and to truly engage one another—especially those whom we may prefer to avoid. We learn not only why it is necessary to commit to dialogue, but how to construct an effective, spiritually centered and lasting dialogic relationship.”

Ethan Vesely-Flad, editor, Fellowship magazine, Fellowship of Reconciliation

“Thought-provoking.... A wonderful primer to help us change our interactions to true connection and solving problems together.”

Judith H. Katz, EdD, The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc.; coauthor, Opening Doors to Teamwork and Collaboration: 4 Keys that Change EVERYTHING and Be BIG: Step Up, Step Out, Be Bold (with Frederick A. Miller)

“Provides practical and necessary tools that can help foster meaningful dialogue among individuals and groups. Given our current—and often polarized—society, this is a reflective book for parties who aspire to come to the table and create solutions.”

Sara Hacala, author, Saving Civility: 52 Ways to Tame Rude, Crude and Attitude for a Polite Planet

Kay Lindahl, the founder of The Listening Center in Long Beach, California, is author of How Does God Listen?; Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening: A Guide to Enrich Your Relationships and Kindle Your Spiritual Life; and The Sacred Art of Listening: Forty Reflections for Cultivating a Spiritual Practice. She is co-editor of Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power.

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