Senior Political Analyst Kirsten Powers On What She's Just Discovered
Her new book is all about the power of grace.
Tensions in this country have been running high and patience is at an all-time low. Through deep research and even deeper reflection, USA Today columnist and CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers discovered the healing, transformative power of grace. In her new book, Saving Grace: Speak Your Truth, Stay Centered, and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts, she calls it "the original self-care."
What was going on in your life when you decided to write this book?
It was very much something that came out of the political situation. I hit the wall toward the end of 2018, post-Kavanaugh, and realized I can't live this way. It isn't sustainable. I came to this realization that our culture is completely toxic, and I realized I was contributing to some of that, certainly on social media. I was filled with contempt and hatred at times. I didn't feel aligned with my values, my beliefs, or who I wanted to be.
I had a kind of intuition that grace was the issue — that I didn't really have grace for other people, and I felt our culture was graceless as I watched everybody else. So I ended up writing a column at the beginning of 2019 acknowledging that I had engaged in some pretty toxic behavior, online in particular. That’s when I quit Twitter. It was a turning point for me. It was important, and it’s something we don't see very often from people in the public sphere, to come out and acknowledge that they’ve done something wrong.
It was partly me putting down a marker, essentially saying: “I've been judgmental, and I’ve also said things I no longer agree with. There are times I look back on where I used a tone I wouldn't use today. I want to be different, and I think we need more grace in this culture.” That was when I decided to make it my project, and that turned into this book. I stumbled onto this idea of grace that ended up being so powerful.
What are misconceptions people may have about grace?
Grace isn't just about being polite or nice. Anybody who's thinking in order to practice grace, I have to never be judgmental or never have contempt — that's not really the goal. I mean, that would be wonderful, but the goal really is to just do a little better. If we all did just a little bit better, the world would be exponentially less brutal.
That doesn’t mean not having opinions. If somebody does or says something harmful, I can see that and be discerning versus judgmental. I can see that person through the lens of grace — which means I give other people space to not be me. I see the humanity in them. But that doesn't mean I'm endorsing their behavior.
Grace doesn't bypass accountability. It doesn't mean that you're saying that what they did was okay; it means that you hold people accountable with humanity. Nor does it mean you shouldn't confront people. It's that when you do, it's going to be much more constructive.
You share practical strategies and lessons you learned from faith leaders, therapists, theologians and others. How did that transformation begin?
I started thinking about the things standing between me and being able to practice grace. And I do think of it as a practice, like meditation or yoga. If I hadn't done the internal work of addressing my trauma, unlearning binary thinking and creating boundaries, if I hadn't focused on conflict in a way that creates peace, not more conflict, I wouldn't have been able to get to the place I am now. Even when I wasn’t filled with constant contempt and rage, I still was very judgmental. I was very unconscious, frankly. I had no awareness of my problematic behavior or thinking. I wasn’t emotionally healthy because I hadn’t integrated some intense trauma in my life. I wish that integration had happened sooner. It just didn't and it took being driven to this point where I couldn't function before I sought out the help that I needed.
It's like you have to hit rock bottom sometimes right before you can see it. I did a kind of audit of myself, which I think everybody needs to do. It's a good way to develop a little humility, just look back and think, where have I fallen short or when have I needed grace or done things that I'm not proud of, or believed things that I shouldn't have? When I did that — of course, most of my stuff's on the internet, so that's fun — what I saw was sometimes pretty problematic.
In your book you say, "Grace is not something you do just to benefit other people. It's good for you." How so?
The biggest beneficiary of grace is the person who practices it. When we're moving into that un-grace space where we're starting to judge people or hold them in contempt, we're the ones who are suffering. We're the ones marinating in the hatred.
Seeing through the lens of grace completely flips everything and makes things much more manageable. It means you don't demonize or dehumanize or dominate people you disagree with. Instead, you can recognize where you end and where they begin. You look at them in totality and say, “I don't like what you're doing. I may not even like you, but I see all of you. I see the humanity in you, and I recognize that you may have a story I don't know.”
Grace helps you see that people are doing the best they can with the tools they have.
How has using grace as a filter to see the world changed your life?
It's kind of mind-blowing how viewing life through this paradigm can solve almost any problem. That's something I don't think I could have grasped before. If you did or said something terrible, then that's what you were in my mind. But I can see now that people are who they are because of the experiences they've had, their trauma, all these things you don't know about. You don't know where they grew up, what their parents were like, their position in society, all these things.
Now I look at the other person and think, okay, we've got a real big disagreement here, and we've got to talk this through. I need to hear why you're doing what you're doing, but I'm doing it with an eye toward creating healing and wholeness. I'm not doing it because I think I'm better than you and you're a bad person, or I need to fix you. Grace gives you a very different disposition toward other people.
I still see what’s happening in this country with complete clarity, and I still am gravely concerned about the direction we are going. But I'm more grounded now. I'm not being pulled all over the place by it.
What do you hope people will take away after reading Saving Grace?
This book is important in terms of helping people understand how to have grace for themselves first. If you can't have grace for yourself, then you're not going to have grace for other people. I was completely graceless toward myself and brutally judgmental. I had a horrible inner critic that cut me no slack. So why should I be surprised that I was doing that to other people? Once you can learn to give yourself some grace, it gets easier to do that with other people. I mean, there's no question. I'm a completely different person. I'm vastly happier and able to metabolize a lot more that's happening in the world. Grace really can radically transform your life.