Karen Tibbals uses her background in market research and Quaker religious studies to help people understand how others–on opposing political sides and with different ethical frameworks–make decisions. This work, like the graphic image above, draws groups with differing opinions into relationship (pink and blue become purple!) Her book can help liberals and conservatives identify the truths they share, and it explains the success of modern societal accomplishments like gay marriage and outlines why guns feel safe to conservatives and scary to liberals. Here we interview her about who she is, and how she came to publish the very helpful books she writes.
Interview with Author Karen Tibbals
You are an author, a market researcher, and a Quaker. You’ve been a student of Quaker history, your career was in pharmaceuticals, and you recently got a Masters in Religion. You must have some pretty interesting conversations with yourself. Which part of you usually wins?
Actually, my undergraduate degree was in Human Communication, I also hold an MBA in Marketing, and then my second Masters was a Masters of Arts in Religion with a specialization in Quaker History. And yes, those different hats have come into conflict, which has led to soul searching.
I wrote about one of those conflicts a few years ago in Friends Journal before I went for my second Masters.
But mostly what happens now is that it becomes fodder for discernment. It’s never easy, but it has become more routine. And usually, it leads me down a path that is unique and takes into account all parts of my identity. It led me to write a Master’s Thesis on the Theology behind Quaker Businesses and how it changed over time. And it has led me to write the books that I have written.
Out of these conflicts have come ideas and energy. There’s no one winner, it is more both/and or thesis/antithesis/synthesis.
Why did you write ‘Persuade Don’t Preach: Restoring Civility Across the Political Divide?’ How do you see this book positively impacting our nation?
I wrote Persuade Don’t Preach: Restoring Civility Across the Political Divide because I saw a huge need for it. Our country has become more politically polarized and we are less willing to try to see the other person’s point of view. Some say that we are as polarized as before the American Civil War, although there were no attitudinal studies done back then that we can compare today to.
I hope that the book will provide a way forward that will lead to peace. This has become my attempt at carrying out the peace testimony. I have already heard from one person that is studying it in her congregation in Ohio that it is saving families.
On November 15, you’ll be the featured speaker at Bucks Quarterly Meeting, I’m sure that will be compelling. Your first book was about marketing, this is your second book; are you thinking about extending the conversation on civility in a third?
I do have plans to write more books, I think the theories that I have been working with provide a fresh perspective in a lot of areas of life. I have already started a newsletter called Mending Fractured Relationships, which recounts stories of relationships that have been affected by politics and ideas of how those relationships could be mended. I imagine that might become the next book.
You’re still co-clerk at your meeting, and you are also attending Quakertown Meeting, NJ which is closer to where you live; how does life in the very neighborhoods and faith communities around you map to the points you make in the book?
The meeting I co-clerk is in Plainfield NJ, which is a minority-dominated city, although our meeting membership does not reflect the city’s demographics.
Last year, we completed a major building project where we rebuilt our Community Wing with the intent of opening it up to the city organizations, but the pandemic has put a hold on those activities. But being in that meeting has exposed me to much more of the reality of life in a minority-dominated city.
I probably would never have spent so much time in Plainfield if it wasn’t for being involved in the meeting. For example, besides our worship services and picnics, we also have peace vigils. The location is right in the center of Plainfield, near the train station and the post office. I have made presentations at local events in the area to raise awareness about the meetinghouse, but oftentimes people from suburbia are scared of the location. In contrast, Quakertown is in a rural community, with no exposure to minority issues.
Why do you think people look for faith and how do you think they connect to Quakerism?
I think people look for religion to help them through a particular problem in their life. People start attending a church is when they have children, or when they face a crisis, health or otherwise.
Historically, periods of increased church attendance have generally followed major societal challenges such as the Civil War. We may be heading into one of those now, with the pandemic.
If you had five minutes with each of the candidates and could magically make them do what you asked of them, what would you ask them for? Is it something you think a political figure could do?
Five minutes with a politician: I would ask them to learn to talk in a language that the opposition can hear.
I think we could get a lot more done politically if we learned to appreciate both our values and the values of the other.
Persuade, Don’t Preach: Restoring Civility Across the Political Divide may be purchased from Amazon.com