In the fall of 2016, the political climate of the United States grew more heated than ever before.  The divisions between our opposing viewpoints widened with what seemed to be no hope of recovery.  Instead of building bridges, walls were constructed to keep out those with whom we did not wish to share ideas.  In fact, the very idea attempting to build bridges was so unappealing that it fell out of our conversation with many of our coworkers, our friends, and even our families. However, for those who did not accept the fate of the country’s downward political spiral, bridges were built.

Even between enemies of the red and blue, human qualities of decency, compassion, respect, and curiosity superseded all political divisions. Two individuals that emulate these qualities best are TEDxMileHigh speakers and best friends Lauran Arledge and Caitlin Quattromani whose Talk was put onto TED.com and has since gone viral on YouTube.

Featured on TED.com

Speaking about politics became a daily debate between them.  Caitlin, a self-identified conservative and Lauran, a self-identified liberal boast a strong friendship despite their political differences. Rather than chastise, scoff, or ridicule the other’s opinion, they see it as an opportunity to better understand one another.  Together, they exemplify the fundamentals of friendship rooted in trust, empathy, and respect.  These basic human qualities were never removed from their conversations, but amplified as they maneuvered the complex topic of politics.

Another individual who can build a bridge with just about anyone is Theo Wilson.  Wilson is also a noteworthy TEDxMileHigh speaker whose talk recently went viral on YouTube and featured on the TED Facebook Page due to ardently expressed experience undercover in the alt-right.  As a black man, his goal was to better understand where the hatred was coming from so he digitally masked himself as a white nationalists in the comment sections of various social media pages.  He spent endless hours speaking with members of white nationalist organizations in an effort to build a bridge between this rather large divide.

And so, as both talks began gaining attention online, momentum carried on provoking a TEDxMileHigh Adventure: Bridging the Gap.  In collaboration with TEDxMileHigh, Lauran, Caitlin, and Theo, hosted a conversational Adventure at Comal Heritage Food Incubator in North Denver.  Their goal was to expand on the ideas of their talk and build bridges between strangers.

Comal Heritage Food Incubator

Comal Heritage Food Incubator served as the space for dozens of anxious Coloradans to join together. Upon entry, they were greeted by the trio as well as some members of the TEDxMileHigh team. Then, participants were split into different groups where mingling over a few glasses of wine, beer, and unusually strong margaritas soon ensued.  Shortly thereafter, Lauran, Caitlin and Theo spoke in front of the group welcoming them to the Adventure.

Next, the conversations commenced when participants were given a variety of questions – some broad like, “How does power have influence in your life?” to more specific ones, “Do you think the two party system is the ideal, why or why not?”

Lauran Arledge Speaking

When we engage in dialogue we flip the script.  We replace our ego and our desire to win, with curiosity, empathy, and learning.

— Lauran Arledge

People jumped right into debate with whoever sat across from them.  It didn’t matter that they were perfect strangers, because everyone had something to say which meant everyone had something to learn.

Theo, Lauran, and Caitlin meandered from table to table offering their personal advice in the matters and even jumped in on a few table discussions.  Intermittently, they gave small talks to the crowd filled with guidance, inspiration, and wisdom.

We must find a way to engage in meaningful conversations that will move us forward as a nation. We can no longer wait for our leaders to elevate our national discourse.

— CAITLIN QUATTROMANI

Caitlin Quattromani Speaking

As participants switched partners several times, the opinions, ideas, and stories blew up like fireworks in each and every interaction.  Evidently, all who came were passionate about politics and how it influences their lives.  Perhaps they seldom get to talk politics with others excited to do so.  Nonetheless, they came ready to bridge the gap.

Theo E. J. Wilson Speaking

Conversations stop violence, they start countries, they build bridges, and when the chips are down, conversations are the last tool that humans have before they pick up guns.

— THEO E. J. WILSON

After the organized topic discussions had concluded, nearly everyone decided to stay and continue the conversation. Perhaps it was the addictive sensation of connecting with a stranger and learning all they have to offer that provoked the continuation.

Then just like that, Comal emptied out with nothing left but empty glasses and lost business cards. Undoubtedly, those that came, left with new perspectives, new resolve to build bridges, and new hope for the future of the country.

Download your own discussion guide from the Adventure!


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