Author: Dylan Marron
Publication date: March 29, 2022
My rating: 4/5 stars
Hello, friends! (And internet strangers, too–hooray for parasocial relationships, I guess? Though I’m not exactly a celebrity who would engender such a relationship, so who knows.) Back again with another miniature backlog review of a title I read last year. Given how long it’s been since I first read the book, this review is on the shorter side, but my thoughts remain essentially the same. Clearing my old NetGalley queue, one title at a time.
All that said, while my thoughts may be brief, I do have a TON of quotes I highlighted in the ebook. To that end, I’m supplementing this review with a sizeable list of those, in hopes that it might further entice you to pick this one up.
Full disclosure: prior to reading this book, my only familiarity with Dylan Marron was his voice acting as Carlos the Scientist on the excellent Welcome to Night Vale podcast (a fictional sci-fi/horror/paranormal radio show–in other words, something not even remotely similar to this book). But of course, given my love of/respect for all the WtNV cast, and knowing this book was an outgrowth of Marron’s own podcast (which I’d heard ads for during WtNV binge-listens), I couldn’t help but want to pick this title up. And I’m so glad I did–Conversations with People Who Hate Me wasn’t my usual reading fare, but it was a valuable read for me, and it’s one I would definitely recommend, particularly for those of us who practically live online. Read on for my further thoughts!
Yes, I usually call this section “The Plot,” but there’s not really a “plot” per se in a nonfiction title, so just bear with me.
From the host of the award-winning, critically acclaimed podcast Conversations with People Who Hate Me comes a thought-provoking, witty, and inspirational exploration of difficult conversations and how to navigate them.
Dylan Marron’s work has racked up millions of views and worldwide support. From his acclaimed Every Single Word video series highlighting the lack of diversity in Hollywood to his web series Sitting in Bathrooms with Trans People, Marron has explored some of today’s biggest social issues.
Yet, according to some strangers on the internet, Marron is a “moron,” a “beta male,” and a “talentless hack.” Rather than running from this online vitriol, Marron began a social experiment in which he invited his detractors to chat with him on the phone—and those conversations revealed surprising and fascinating insights.
Now, Marron retraces his journey through a project that connects adversarial strangers in a time of unprecedented division. After years of production and dozens of phone calls, he shares what he’s learned about having difficult conversations and how having them can help close the ever-growing distance between us.
Charmingly candid and refreshingly hopeful, Conversations with People Who Hate Me will serve as both a guide to anyone partaking in difficult conversations and a permission slip for those who dare to believe that connection is possible.
Trigger/content warnings: homophobia, cyberbullying, discussion of sexual assault
The act of deliberately seeking out conversations with people who have posted hateful comments toward you on social media seems like a risky maneuver, and yet Marron has found a way to do just that–and then build it into a podcast and turn his reflections on that experience into a book. His writing here is sometimes funny, often insightful, and always earnest in his approach. In accessible, friendly language, he walks through his own journey puzzling out how to talk with someone, rather than against or at them; how to navigate conflicts and avoid reaching conversational stalemates; and how to find common ground between yourself and the people you’d least expect to find it with. It is a reflection on the complex and interconnected nature of debate, listening, accountability, shame, and–most importantly–empathy, and how the internet further entangles them all.
By breaking down his experiences from individual episodes/conversations into digestible lessons, and juxtaposing those lessons with his own experience as a denizen of the internet–evolving from the ever-popular aggressive clapbacks and hot takes into a communication style with less clickbait potential but more ability to build understanding–he weaves a hopeful combination of personal narrative and general how-to-be-a-decent-human guide. Even when dealing with heavy subjects, he strikes the delicate balance between sensitivity and candid emotional expression that such discussions deserve.
I highly recommend this one for anyone who’s grown weary of feeling like online discourse is more of a battlefield than a forum for dialogue–and also, conversely, for anyone who feels the constant siren call of social media drama.
- The internet turns us into caricatures of ourselves.
- We are fed the myth that “everyone” is keeping up with the Everythings because we have a poor sense of scale online— a topic discussed by a handful of people ends up being monolithically described as “what everyone is talking about” so we rush to join in. But no one is truly keeping up with everything on their own, not even the late-night hosts, who are sold to us as the effortlessly hilarious, ferociously smart “everyman,” who happens to casually be a one-person human encyclopedia.
- Empathy, I’m learning, is a natural byproduct of talking to people. It is impossible when having a conversation to not see the other person as a three-dimensional human being, full of nuance and complexity.
- To debate something as nuanced as identity is like trying to settle a delicate marital rift through a game of dodgeball.
- Pain is the gift that keeps on giving.
- Just as debate turned conversation into a sport, shame turned justice into a spectacle.
- Empathizing with someone is the simple acknowledgment that they, like you, are a human. Empathizing with someone does not suddenly permit them to say and do awful things.
- To many, accountability looks like an apology. But in my experience, conversation is apology in action.
- Bravery, it turns out, is not one thing. There are many ways to be brave. It is brave to have difficult conversations with someone who hurt you online. I also think it’s brave to protect yourself and know your limits well enough to articulate when you don’t want to have a conversation.
- Curiosity is not inherently virtuous. Simply asking questions does not automatically lead to a productive conversation.
- Radical change does not happen in the course of a single phone call. It does not happen because a conversation ends on a happy note. It happens because someone is willing to listen, someone is able to reach them, and a bridge was created for them to meet.
- Conversation is a form of accountability with love.
Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley! All opinions are my own.