"Our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention — an argument culture," writes Deborah Tannen, bestselling author of You Just Don't Understand. It takes thick skin and a strong stomach to survive in a society where opposition is always advocated as the best route to getting things done. As anyone who has appeared on television or written a press kit for an organization knows, you can't get anywhere without controversy or conflict as attention-getting mechanisms.

In this long-needed and salutary work, social scientist Tannen examines the sorry state of public discourse that is tattered by discord, the widespread use of war metaphors, and slash-and-burn thinking. She gives numerous examples to show how the ethic of aggression pervades the media, politics, courtrooms, academia, and the Internet.

The author calls for a halt to "the automatic use of adversarial formats" and suggests we consider other ways to deal with disagreement, such as accommodation, conflict resolution, and third party mediation. The animosity spawned by our argument culture has reached epidemic proportions. The best ways to heal the resulting wounds to the body politic and our sense of community are by ending dualistic thinking and beginning the art of dialogue. In both cases, religious institutions and individuals can lead the way by demonstrating the spiritual practices of openness, hospitality, listening, and peace.