Libraries Help with Uncomfortable Conversations

Successfully Navigating Uncomfortable Conversations
Posted on 05/22/2021
Joanna Bailey

I had a recent conversation with a good friend on the polarizing topics of mask wearing, vaccinations, and racism. Some aspects we saw eye to eye on, others we did not.  This was not surprising as we are very different.  We have different life experiences, different political beliefs, and our general ideologies are worlds apart.  However, in spite of, or maybe because of these differences we discovered we are well matched conversationalists.  Our best “aha” moments come when we are trying to better understand, not eradicate, our differences.  Striving to understand a viewpoint different from one’s own, especially a deeply held one, is hard work.  Sometimes we struggle and can feel our defenses begin to rise.  But this struggle is also our success as we are stretching ourselves to grow and to accept, even when we don’t understand or agree.  And that kind of growth feels pretty important right now.

Like anything new, successfully navigating uncomfortable conversations is a skill that requires practice.  Your library can help.  We’ve got 64 books just on the topic of handling strong emotions amid vulnerable conversation.  Why so many books on this single topic?  Like I said, it’s tough work.  Try:  Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patters, Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, Reconcilable Differences by Dawna Markova, and How to Have Impossible Conversations by Peter Boghossian.

The library also has plenty of online books and resources if you prefer that medium instead.  Could you use help with internet access?  We’ve got free mobile hotspots for loan, thanks to a grant from the Washington State Library.  Hotspots check out one week at a time and support up to 10 devices.  A word of advice as you head to the world wide web, do consider your sources.  In an era of misinformation, look to your library as a credible search engine with trained staff to help you explore new ideas, discover opportunities, and create your own meaningful connections. 

Speaking of connections, as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month winds down, we continue to reflect on themes that will hopefully spark deep conversations.  Try Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, The Refugee by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Souls of Yellow Folk by Wesley Yang; or award-winning movies like Parasite directed by Bong Joon Ho and The Farewell by writer/director Lulu Yang; or, for our younger tech-savvy readers, try Celebrating AAPI Voices, an online reading challenge with outreach and engagement activities offered through Beanstack. Patrons can register here: or contact the library for assistance. 

On a related note, I took time this month to reflect on my own lived experiences as a Korean adoptee growing up on the Palouse.  Let me dispel a myth.  Yes, racism does exist here, just as it does everywhere.  As a child, I interpreted racist actions against me as something I needed to learn to cope with. But I knew what I experienced hurt and it wasn’t right.  Humor and evasion were easier tactics, so I perfected my ability to laugh on the outside and cry in private.  As I built up tolerance, I found solace in the arms of my Caucasian mother.  I don’t dwell on these experiences, but they are an undeniable part of my history and to some degree, shaped me into who I am today. Don’t misunderstand, I am not grateful for being targeted.  But experiencing hatred at an early age fortified my inner strength.  Today, I am stronger and braver.  I am more resilient and protectively cautious. I have learned to not let others determine my self-worth. And I feel fortunate every day to have found a meaningful profession where I can lift others up, bring people together, and provide welcoming inclusive service to all. 

Joanna Bailey
Director, Neill Public Library