Sunday with the opposition

Nothing gets us fired up like talking politics. The respect for people with different views is often quite limited. People with different views really don't get it, their arguments are shallow, they’re fools. The enemy!

In recent years we have become more and more politically polarised. Studies show that we actively seek people we agree with and shut other arguments out. And that we end up so far apart, that it is difficult to reach each other again.


Why can't we just sit down and talk anymore? What would happen if we were sat in front of someone we disagreed with? Would it end in conflict or would our disagreements be a possibility for us to move closer?


We decided to try it out for ourselves. DR (Danish public service broadcaster) had as a part of the general election held in Denmark made it possible for people with opposing political views to meet.  The ground rules were simple: Listen and try to understand.  

Here's what we learned:

  • We didn’t meet “the opposition”. We met a human being. Sitting face to face with our conversation partners and introducing ourselves made the banal fact clear that we are sitting across from another human being. Who lived in the same area as us, cared for the society like us, had a family like us. And they were just as interested in meeting a stranger as we were. 
  • We wanted the same things in different ways. As we spent time diving into our disagreements and really examining them it was like they lost their power. Basically, we wanted many of the same things; well functioning hospitals, safe neighborhoods, world-class education, clean environment and opportunity for everyone. Our methods to achieve these objectives were just a bit different. 
  • Winning became irrelevant. The premise for the meeting; that we genuinely listened to one another made the difference. It became irrelevant to conclude who was "right" and who was "wrong”. It became far more interesting to help each other examine different nuances of a topic. 
  • Disagreements made our conversations interesting. The conversations were far more interesting than the average first conversation with a stranger where it's oh-so-easy to fall back on empty small-talk. We had to dive into questions about values and ethics and we left with nuanced opinions on many topics.

We both met with a random stranger, we both genuinely had fun and felt inspired. What are the odds for that? A lot higher than we think! And one thing is for sure, it's not the last time we devote a Sunday afternoon to disagreeing.






June 03, 2019 — Anne Thorsø Sørensen