I lay in bed awake, asking myself “How did we get here?”
Polarizing headlines ravage our newsfeeds like wildfire. Politicians and pundits shamelessly insult each other in real time. For weeks leading up to this moment, all I wanted to do was talk to someone. To understand, listen, and learn from people on “the other side.” It seemed so simple, but I wasn’t sure how to make it happen.
The next morning I launched The Hello Project (THP). I wanted to know if two strangers would be willing to jump on a 20-minute video call to talk about political issues. I wanted to know if confronting our shared humanity would lead to a productive, maybe even insightful conversation. I wanted to know if technology could pop our social bubbles rather than reinforce them. The answer to all of the above turned out to be — yes.
About 100 people, from places like Tulsa, Oklahoma to Buenos Aires, Argentina, signed up for THP in the first week. Due to scheduling conflicts, 56 of them ended up chatting with one another. They were initially matched based on their availability, then by their answers to questions like “Are people fundamentally good or evil?”
From the 46 participants who submitted survey answers, the majority of people expressed similar sentiments when we asked them what was the most memorable part of their conversation:
“Before talking about politics and policy, we need to build trust and relationships. And how the only way we really empathize with them to get to know them as their whole person (not just through their facebook posts, or by their religion, or who they voted for).”
“No one is 100% morally good or bad, and there are probably lots of things we can agree on, politics aside.”
Some felt anxious, nervous, apprehensive or excited before their video chat, but this is how most felt when it was over:
“Happy. Very much. She helped me to broaden my perspective.”
“More interested in building relationships with people not like me.”
“Connected, as though we as humanity totally fucking GOT this”
Of course, not everything went smoothly. Some people weren’t given enough time to read the shared story before their call. Nearly half of participants expected to talk to someone with more opposing views, and a handful of folks said it wasn’t clear what they were expected to contribute.
There’s no shortage of improvements to be made, but as an organizer, I’m hopeful. More than 85 percent of people said they would participate in THP again and more than 80 percent would recommend it to their friends. Beyond politics, is it possible to design a better way to communicate and understand one another? Can these individual conversations alter the tone of our national discourse? The answers are worth pursuing.
The next phase of The Hello Project begins now.
First, a sincere and heartfelt thanks to those who volunteered to participate in the first round of THP. None of this would have been possible without their open minds and hearts. Our challenge in the second phase is to recruit people with different political ideologies and still create a space where they can genuinely connect. This week, I’ll be reaching out to conservative and liberal groups to expand THP, and we’ll be making some changes so participants can expect clearer directions and hopefully a smoother conversation.
If you, a relative, a friend or colleague is interested in participating, please sign up here. It only takes 30 minutes of your time, and who knows, this could be the beginning of something special.