LBCC to Host Ted Talk Speakers: Red Mom, Blue Mom
On Nov. 15, LBCC will host Ted Talk speakers Caitlin Quattromani and Lauran Arledge. They have a unique relationship: they remain close friends despite disagreeing on most political arguments. Their speech will address the difficulties of making and sustaining these kinds of friendships, and why relationships like these are so important.
Liz Joyner, the primary orchestrator of this event, is the executive director of the Village Square, an organization working to promote interpersonal communication amongst local communities. In preparation for the event, she answered a few questions about what the Village Square, and the speakers, were working to accomplish, as well as what the bigger picture of this movement means for American communities.
Q: We tend to think of relationships like Caitlin and Lauran’s to be anomalies, almost miraculous given the political climate of today. Are they alone, or have you seen other politically opposite relationships like theirs form?
A: Absolutely, they are not alone. In some ways the culture that we’re in doesn’t highlight relationships like that. One of the goals of our project is to highlight relationships like theirs that endure in this really toxic political climate. Interestingly enough, the bigger challenge to us in our project is we’re trying to highlight pairs like them. When real relationships exist across difference of opinion, one of the things that happens quite naturally is that they end up moving towards each other. They understand better, and very often it actually closes the gap between them.
Q: A term you’ve spoken of in your own Ted Talk is ‘tribalism,’ the human tendency to support our side wholeheartedly, despite whether our side is correct or not. How does this tribalism affect us when we try to talk to those at the other end of the political spectrum?
A: We’ve reached a boiling point where any outreach to talk [with a political other] is considered an act of tribal disloyalty. For humans to be described as tribal is very normal. It’s not by definition a bad thing. We are naturally inclined towards gathering with people who are like us, share life experiences, and have some of the common goals that we have. That by itself is not a problem. You want to have bonding social capital: people like you in your tribe. But we also have to have bridging social capital, and that’s where we have experiences with people who are not like us at all. Almost always, those are the opportunities for us to learn something new that we didn’t know and experience things from a different perspective. Even if we are amazingly right about almost everything, people with different perspectives can show us where our weak points are, where the things we didn’t completely understand lie. To me, our biggest challenge is the fact that we seem to no longer consider those kinds of bridging opportunities valuable. They aren’t just valuable, they are the central organizing principle of American democracy.
Q: It can be difficult keeping a level head, especially when talking with someone who has morally disparate views from you. How have you seen participators keep an air of friendly communication, without the conversation turning heated?
A: It’s about what kinds of people we bring in front of audiences. Lauren and Caitlin are incredibly good examples because of the fact that they have demonstrated vast generosity and respect towards each other, despite the fact that they still disagree fundamentally on basic political differences. We almost never bring people who have a stake in the continuation of the escalating division [in our country], and there are a lot of people who do. If you bring people who have some sense of humility and generosity towards people who don’t see things your way, it’s a completely different conversation that we’re having. It’s a different conversation than what we’re having online, where we’re essentially just ready to lob the next grenade at the enemy.
Q: The Village Square has hosted events like the Longest Table in Tallahassee as well as speakers across the country to encourage shared perspective and dialogue. What is the long term goal of the Village Square, and how do you hope to see our national community change the way it communicates?
A: The interesting thing about [our nation’s social and political issues] is that they’re never going to be solved online. Ultimately, it is in communities of people, between neighbors, our fellow students, that this gets solved. It’s when we turn to those around us who share a common destiny with us in our community; that’s the only unit we’ve got that can be face to face with each other. The internet is incredible in so many ways, it lets us find people whom we have common causes with. We can stretch out and reach people who have a lot in common with us. In some ways it is an unintended consequence that all that reaching out we’re doing to people just like us is cementing our ideological tribes. And now they’re overtaking the geographic neighborhood community tribe. What the Village Square does is act where the solution lies, and if ten years from now there’s 350 communities that are engaged in efforts like ours, that’s one of the only ways that this problem gets solved. In some ways, this is an easier problem to solve than we all think. We have to start spending more time with people who disagree with us. People in proximity, eyeball to eyeball with each other, behave differently than with these other formats. The very act of an ideologically diverse group of LBCC students gathering when Caitlin and Lauran come to speak will actively work to solve the problem.