But generally, in this miracle that delights us every time, people begin to introduce themselves. And they begin to explain who they are and where they come from, and they begin to ask questions of one another. And slowly, over time, people circle back again and again to difficult topics, each time with a little more empathy, a little more nuance, a little more curiosity.
And our journalists and moderators work really hard to support this because it’s not a debate, it’s not a battle, it’s not a Sunday morning talk show. It’s not the flinging of talking points. It’s not the stacking of memes and gifs or articles with headlines that prove a point. And it’s not about scoring political victories with question traps.
So what we’ve learned is that our state of discord is bad for everyone. It is a deeply unhappy state of being. And people tell us this again and again. They say they appreciate the chance to engage respectfully, with curiosity and with openness, and that they’re glad and relieved for a chance to put down their arms.
And so we do our work in direct challenge to the political climate in our country right now, and we do it knowing that it is difficult, challenging work to hold and support people in opposing backgrounds in conversation. And we do it knowing democracy depends on our ability to address our shared problems together.
And we do this work by putting community at the heart of our journalistic process, by putting our egos to the side to listen first, to listen deeply, to listen around and through our own biases, our own habits of thought, and to support others in doing the same. And we do this work knowing that journalism as an institution is struggling, and that it has always had a role to play and will continue to have a role to play in supporting the exchange of ideas and views.
For many of the participants in our groups, there are lasting reverberations. Many people have become Facebook friends and in-real-life friends too, across political lines. After we closed that first Trump/Clinton project, about two-thirds of the women went on to form their own Facebook group and they chose a moderator from each state and they continue to talk about difficult and challenging issues.
People tell us again and again that they’re grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this work, grateful to know that people on the other side aren’t crazy, grateful that they’ve had a chance to connect with people they wouldn’t have otherwise talked to.
A lot of what we’ve seen and learned, despite the fact that we call ourselves Spaceship Media, is not at all rocket science. If you call people names, if you label them, if you insult them, they are not inclined to listen to you. Snark doesn’t help, shame doesn’t help, condescension doesn’t help. Genuine communication takes practice and effort and restraint and self-awareness. There isn’t an algorithm to solve where we are.
Because real human connection is in fact real human connection. So lead with curiosity, emphasize discussion not debate, get out of your silo, because real connection across difference … this is a salve that our democracy sorely needs.