Ever since the 2016 election results rolled in, I’ve been talking with teachers and students about how polarized we are in the United States today—and, more specifically, what teachers of writing can do about it. I and plenty of others have written about the importance of listening, of being open to a wide range of opinions, and on working to establish common ground with those you may not agree with.
Enter Henry Tsai, now about to graduate from Harvard’s MBA program, who I’ve known since he was a member of my course on graphic memoirs when he was a sophomore at Stanford. Henry has been working to bring people together for good causes since his high school days: a talented artist as well as a strong and vivid writer, he wrote a senior thesis at Stanford that provided an illustrated study of Vietnamese community members who ended up in Houston (Henry’s home town) after Katrina. For this study, Henry interviewed a number of these people, who were doubly—sometimes triply—displaced, learned of their stories, and raised awareness about their current situation.
After the election this past fall, Henry didn’t just wring his hands over the state of the country and its deep divisions. Instead, he and his friend Yasyf (described by Henry as “a computer whiz”) created an app called Hi From The Other Side. As you’ll see, this app aims to bring together pairs of people from different political sides (e.g., Trump, Clinton) to talk with and listen to one another. Anyone can sign up and answer some questions designed to weed out trolls or just troublemakers and then eventually be paired with someone from “the other side.”
Participants are encouraged to meet in person if possible or by phone—in other words in real time and real life. The app provides guidelines for getting conversations started and sustaining them; it definitely does not have an ax to grind! As Henry puts it, “This wasn't an initiative from a political organization or anything, just people who care about being better listeners.”
You can read testimonials from people who have said “hi from the other side” on the link above, and you can sign up to receive their newsletter. And you can let your students know about this new app, one that may help them be better listeners and to talk productively with people on the “other side.”
Credit: Pixaby Image 1549399 by klimkin, used under a CC0 Public Domain License