Following the election of President Trump, the country feels more politically polarized than ever. People are able to stay isolated in their own bubble of news, and don’t often engage with people who think differently than them. KGNU’s Julia Caulfield reports on how one organization in Boulder is trying to change that by getting people to simply talk with each other.
In a small church room in downtown Boulder, six community members sit together in circle and talk. There are snacks on the a table in the middle, the hum of a fan comes in and out, and the rumble of cars stays constant outside the window. They’re all participating in what is called a Living Room Conversation. Started in Berkeley in 2010, the organization aims to use conversation to build relationships and understanding.
Mary Gaylord is the Program Development Partner for Living Room Conversations, and recently brought the program to Boulder. She says she hopes these conversations can help people not only recognize different points of view, but also realized the value of having different perspectives in our communities.
“At its core, it’s based on the idea that people with different points of view can have a conversation in a civil, and friendly, and constructive way. And there’s a lot of tendencies in our culture to not do that anymore, and so the idea is that we are going to be better at solving our problems collectively, in our communities, if we see all sides of an issue, and if we are able to hear different sides of an issue, and not just keep progressing our own point of view.”
Each conversation has a topic, and a series of ground rules to help hold the space. They include rules like “be curious”, “show respect”, and “appreciate differences”. There’s also a loose structure for the conversation. After sharing why they came to the conversation, participants move into discussing the chosen topic.
Tonight that topic is the opportunity gap.
The conversation flows from poverty, to race, to education, to homelessness, and participants embody the established rules. They respectfully listen and engage with what each person has to say.
Katie Page was a participant in the conversation. She says that despite initial apprehension to some viewpoints she found connection she didn’t anticipate.
“I think when a few people started talking I think I immediately felt a little offended by it, what a couple were saying, and then I allowed myself to relax and was more open to what they were saying and actually realized I did agree with what they were saying sometimes. But because I had this preconceived notion about them, I wasn’t letting myself agree with them. I mean, how silly is that? So I actually found I have way more common ground with those in the room than I initially thought.”
Another participant who chose not to have his name used, says that the emphasis on respect is what makes these conversations valuable.
“I think that when you actually have a conversation with people who are treating it with respect then you are going to get much more to the heart of the matter, it’s often the other side is caricatured in what you see in the news media for example, and so to present ideas in a thoughtful way, this kind of interactive environment is terrific.”
So far, there have been half a dozen Living Room Conversations in Boulder, and Mary Gaylord says she plans to host local conversations every month. People are also encouraged to host their own Living Room Conversations in their communities.