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TEDWomen 2017

Joan Blades and John Gable: Free yourself from your filter bubbles

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Views 966,916

Joan Blades and John Gable want you to make friends with people who vote differently than you do. A pair of political opposites, the two longtime pals know the value of engaging in honest conversations with people you don't immediately agree with. Join them as they explain how to bridge the gaps in understanding between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum -- and create opportunities for mutual listening and consideration (and, maybe, lasting friendships).

- Domestic peace advocate
Joan Blades shares a simple six-person conversation guide that helps people with differences get to know and even like each other. Full bio

- Technologist, activist
John Gable is the founder and CEO of AllSides.com, which builds better understanding across divides. Full bio

Joan Blades: Do you have
politically diverse friends?
00:12
What do you talk about with them?
00:15
I'm a progressive; I live
in a town full of progressives,
00:18
and 15 years ago, I didn't have
any conservative friends.
00:20
Now I have a wonderful mix of friends,
00:24
and they include John.
00:27
John Gable: I am not a progressive.
00:29
I'm a Republican who grew up
in a Republican family
00:31
in the conservative South,
00:34
and even worked in Republican politics,
locally and at the national level.
00:35
But the last 24 years,
I've been in technology
00:39
and living in a very progressive area.
00:42
So I have a lot of progressive friends,
00:44
including Joan.
00:46
JB: I was born in Berkeley, California,
00:48
a notoriously progressive college town.
00:51
And I live there now.
00:54
In 1998, six months into the Monica
Lewinsky-Clinton impeachment scandal,
00:56
I helped cofound MoveOn.org
with a one-sentence petition:
01:02
"Congress must immediately
censure the president
01:07
and move on to pressing issues
facing the nation."
01:10
Now, that was actually
a very unifying petition in many ways.
01:13
You could love Clinton or hate Clinton
01:17
and agree that the best thing
for the country was to move on.
01:19
As the leader of MoveOn,
I saw the polarization just continue.
01:23
And I found myself wondering
01:28
why I saw things so differently
01:31
than many people
in other parts of the country.
01:34
So in 2005, when I had an opportunity
to get together with grassroots leaders
01:36
across the political divide,
01:42
I grabbed it.
01:45
And I became friends with a lot of people
01:47
I never had a chance to talk to before.
01:49
And that included leadership
in the Christian Coalition,
01:53
often seen as on the right
the way MoveOn is seen as on the left.
01:56
And this lead to me
showing up on Capitol Hill
02:00
with one of the Christian Coalition
leaders, my friend,
02:04
to lobby for net neutrality.
02:08
That was powerful.
02:10
We turned heads.
02:11
So this work was transformational for me.
02:13
And I found myself wondering:
02:17
How could vast numbers of people
have the opportunity
02:20
to really connect with people
that have very different views?
02:24
JG: I was born Oneida, Tennessee,
02:28
right across the state border
from a small coal mining town,
02:31
Stearns, Kentucky.
02:35
And I lived there
for the first few years of my life,
02:37
before moving to another small town,
Frankfort, Kentucky.
02:39
Basically, I grew up
in small-town America,
02:42
conservative at its heart.
02:44
Now, Stearns and Berkeley --
they're a little different.
02:46
(Laughter)
02:50
So in the '90s I moved out west
to a progressive area
02:53
to work in technology --
02:57
worked at Microsoft, worked at Netscape.
02:58
I actually became the product manager lead
for Netscape Navigator,
03:00
the first popular web browser.
03:04
Now in the early days of the internet,
03:06
we were just moved
and inspired by a vision:
03:08
when we're connected to all
these different people around the world
03:11
and all these different ideas,
03:14
we'll be able to make great decisions,
03:16
and we'll be able to appreciate each other
03:17
for the beautiful diversity
that the whole world has to offer.
03:20
Now I also, 20 years ago, gave a speech
03:23
saying it might not work out that way,
03:24
that we might actually be trained
to discriminate against each other
03:27
in new ways.
03:31
So what happened?
03:34
It's not like we just woke up one day
and decided to hate each other more.
03:36
Here's what happened.
03:40
There's just too much noise --
too many people, too many ideas --
03:42
so we use technology
to filter it out a little bit.
03:45
And what happens?
03:47
It lets in ideas I already agree with.
03:49
It lets in the popular ideas,
03:52
it lets in people just like me
who think just like me.
03:54
That sounds kind of good, right?
03:56
Well, not necessarily,
03:58
because two very scary things happen
04:01
when we have such narrow worldviews.
04:04
First, we become more extreme
in our beliefs.
04:06
Second, we become less tolerant
of anybody who's different than we are.
04:11
Does this sound familiar?
04:18
Does this sound like modern America?
The modern world?
04:20
Well, the good news is
that technology is changing,
04:24
and it could change for the better.
04:26
And that's, in fact,
why I started AllSides.com --
04:28
to create technologies and services
to free us from these filter bubbles.
04:31
The very first thing we did was create
technology that identifies bias,
04:35
so we could show different
perspectives side by side
04:38
to free us from the filter
bubbles of news media.
04:42
And then I met Joan.
04:46
JB: So I met John outside
of Washington, DC,
04:49
with an idealistic group
of cross-partisan bridge builders,
04:52
and we wanted to re-weave
the fabric of our communities.
04:58
We believe that our differences
can be a strength,
05:02
that our values can be complimentary
05:06
and that we have to overcome the fight
05:09
so that we can honor everyone's values
05:12
and not lose any of our own.
05:14
I went for this wonderful walk with John,
05:17
where I started learning
about the work he was doing
05:19
to pierce the filter bubble.
05:21
It was powerful;
05:23
it was brilliant.
05:25
Living in separate narratives is not good.
05:27
We can't even have a conversation
or do collaborative problem-solving
05:30
when we don't share the same facts.
05:34
JG: So one thing you take away from today
05:38
is if Joan Blades asks you
to go on a walk,
05:40
go on that walk.
05:43
(Laughter)
05:44
It changed things. It really changed
the way I was thinking about things.
05:45
To free ourselves from the filter bubbles,
05:49
we can't just think about
information filter bubbles,
05:51
but also relationship
and social filter bubbles.
05:54
You see, we human beings -- we're not
nearly as smart as we think we are.
05:56
We don't generally make
decisions intellectually.
06:00
We make them emotionally, intuitively,
06:02
and then we use our big old brains
06:04
to rationalize anything
we want to rationalize.
06:06
We're not really like Vulcans
like Mr. Spock,
06:08
we're more like bold cowboys
like Captain Kirk,
06:12
or passionate idealists like Dr. McCoy.
06:15
OK, for those of y'all who prefer
the new "Star Trek" crew,
06:19
here you go.
06:22
(Laughter)
06:23
JB: Don't forget the strong women!
06:24
JG: Come on, strong women. OK.
06:26
JB: All right.
06:28
John and I are both "Star Trek" fans.
06:29
What's not to love about a future
with that kind of optimism?
06:31
JG: And having a good future in mind
is a big deal -- very important.
06:36
And understanding what the problem is
is very important.
06:40
But we have to do something.
06:42
So what do we do?
06:44
It's actually not that hard.
06:45
We have to add diversity to our lives --
06:46
not just information,
but relationship diversity.
06:48
And by diversity,
I mean big "D" diversity,
06:52
not just racial and gender,
which are very important,
06:54
but also ...
06:57
diversity of age, like young and old;
06:59
rural and urban;
07:02
liberal and conservative;
07:04
in the US, Democrat and Republican.
07:07
Now, one of the great examples
of somebody freeing themselves
07:10
from their filter bubbles
07:13
and getting a more diverse life
07:14
is, once again, next to me -- Joan.
07:16
JB: So the question is:
07:19
Who among you has had
relationships lost or harmed
07:21
due to differences in politics,
religion or whatever?
07:25
Raise your hands.
07:29
Yeah.
07:31
This year I have talked to so many people
07:33
that have experienced that kind of loss.
07:35
I've seen tears well up in people's eyes
as they talk about family members
07:41
from whom they're estranged.
07:45
Living Room Conversations were designed
07:48
to begin to heal political
and personal differences.
07:51
They're simple conversations
07:57
where two friends with different
viewpoints each invite two friends
07:59
for structured conversation,
08:04
where everyone's agreed
to some simple ground rules:
08:05
curiosity, listening,
respect, taking turns --
08:08
everything we learned
in kindergarten, right?
08:12
Really easy.
08:14
So by the time you're talking about
the topic you've agreed to talk about,
08:16
you actually have the sense that,
08:20
"You know, I kind of like this person,"
08:22
and you listen to each other differently.
08:24
That's kind of a human condition;
08:26
we listen differently
to people we care about.
08:28
And then there's reflection
08:31
and possibly next steps.
08:33
This is a deep listening practice;
08:36
it's never a debate.
08:38
And that's incredibly powerful.
08:41
These conversations
in our own living rooms
08:43
with people who have different viewpoints
08:47
are an incredible adventure.
08:50
We rediscover that we can respect
and even love people
08:52
that are different from us.
08:55
And it's powerful.
08:58
JG: So, what are you curious about?
09:01
JB: What's the conversation
you yearn to have?
09:04
JG: Let's do this together.
09:07
Together.
09:09
JB: Yes.
09:10
(Laughter)
09:11
(Applause)
09:12
JB and JG: Thank you.
09:15

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About the speakers:

Joan Blades - Domestic peace advocate
Joan Blades shares a simple six-person conversation guide that helps people with differences get to know and even like each other.

Why you should listen

Joan Blades is a co-founder of LivingRoomConversations.org, an open-source effort to rebuild respectful civil discourse across ideological, cultural and party lines while embracing our core-shared values. She is also a co-founder of MomsRising.org and MoveOn.org. She is a co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line, winner of a Nautilus book award in 2011, and The Motherhood Manifesto, which won the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Book Prize in 2007.

Last century, Blades was a software entrepreneur, a co-founder of Berkeley Systems, best known for the Flying Toaster and the game "You Don't Know Jack." A mediator (attorney) by training and inclination, she is a nature lover, artist and true believer in the power of citizens and our need to rebuild respectful civil discourse while embracing our core shared values.

More profile about the speaker
Joan Blades | Speaker | TED.com
John Gable - Technologist, activist
John Gable is the founder and CEO of AllSides.com, which builds better understanding across divides.

Why you should listen

John Gable offers a unique combination of technology and politics. He started in tech 24 years ago by joining the original Microsoft Office team, then became the PM team lead for Netscape Navigator. He also led ZoneAlarm at Check Point Software, and cofounded and sold Kavi Corp. Gable was previously a Republican operative, working for three Senate majority leaders (Howard Baker, Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell), the Republican National Committee and George H.W. Bush.

Now Gable and his multi-partisan AllSides.com team use technology to present news and issues from many angles to allow people to make up their own minds. Their mission: "free people from filter bubbles so they can better understand the world and each other."

More profile about the speaker
John Gable | Speaker | TED.com