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Recent Study Shows Power of One Small Step Conversations

More in Common, a nonpartisan organization focused on strengthening resilience against the forces of division, just completed a study of One Small Step “Audio Cards,” short video excerpts of One Small Step conversations that are shareable on social media and demonstrate that it’s possible to have conversations across the political divide.

In 2018, More in Common launched a year-long groundbreaking project that explores the nuances in the way we identify politically in America. It turns out we’re not just Republicans, Democrats, and Independents—the American electorate is actually comprised of what More in Common has identified as seven Hidden Tribes. Learn more about this research here. The Hidden Tribes project found that 9 in 10 Americans say they are exhausted by the political division in this country. The research also showed that most Americans value empathy, believe in the power of listening and engaging with others who have different views and experiences, and are looking for a way out of the divisive place we find ourselves in today. Additionally, the findings suggest that almost all Americans think that people need to listen to each other better and agree that sharing stories helps us understand each other.

For the StoryCorps study, More in Common gathered a panel of Americans from different political backgrounds and shared eight Audio Cards that feature excerpts of real One Small Step conversations. Afterward, panelists were given a set of questions to capture  their opinions.

Results showed that participants of all political persuasions were powerfully affected by these excerpts. The panelists’ strong positive responses confirm our initial hypothesis that seeing others take part in One Small Step conversations can make Americans feel it is possible to engage others with different political beliefs and that doing so might help us overcome our divisions. One of the most common responses to each Audio Card was the word “hope.” In particular, many participants said they felt inspired by the evidence that Americans from different backgrounds can talk respectfully and want to take part in a similar conversation.

“The One Small Step conversations are a ray of light at a time when Americans feel blanketed in pessimism, with no way forward beyond our deep divisions,” said More in Common Co-founder Tim Dixon. “In a time when most Americans no longer trust politicians, talking heads or even celebrities, it’s the authentic voices of Americans just like them that are more powerful than anything else.”

For One Small Step to achieve its true potential—of impact at scale—we need to test and learn whose voices resonate most strongly, and what reaches those Americans who most need to hear the positive message that comes from these conversations,” added Dixon.

Experience these Audio Cards for yourself—and if you like what you hear, we invite you to share them on your social media channels.

How Richmond, VA is Embracing One Small Step

Baseball games, a church, a library, the offices of the largest newspaper in Richmond, and a museum of history and culture. All of these places were stops earlier this summer in our outreach and engagement efforts in Richmond, VA, one of our One Small Step Anchor Communities. 

“There continues to be a great amount of interest in One Small Step in Richmond,” said One Small Step Field Manager Sonia Mehrmand. “Organizations are eager to partner with StoryCorps to help bring this initiative to more people throughout their community and we’re excited to support them.” 

On June 9, Sonia threw out the first pitch at a Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball game and over the course of two games, spoke with numerous attendees about One Small Step, why Richmond is a focus for this work, and how they can get involved. She and StoryCorps’ Founder and President Dave Isay also spoke with community members at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, who are eager to learn more about the initiative. Dave also gave a Creative Mornings talk and shared why StoryCorps is focusing its One Small Step work in Richmond.

Watch Dave’s talk:

Sonia rounded out her time in Richmond at K95 Countryfest, a two-day country music festival, speaking to attendees about One Small Step and encouraging them to apply to be matched for a conversation. 

Finally, Sonia and Dave met with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney about his interest in One Small Step, and welcomed his ideas and enthusiasm for how it can help his community. 

Over the course of one week, Sonia and Dave were able to make hundreds of connections with people throughout Richmond and are eager to see how One Small Step continues to build momentum throughout the community. 

Sign up to take One Small Step.

Reaching Audiences in Fresno and the Central Valley

Fresno/Central Valley, CA is one of three Anchor Communities (along with Richmond, VA; and Wichita, KS) where StoryCorps is focusing its One Small Step efforts. Each community is distinctly different, and each is partnering with StoryCorps to implement One Small Step in its own way. If One Small Step can succeed in the Anchor Communities, we believe the effort can be scaled nationwide.

StoryCorps’ Founder and President Dave Isay was recently interviewed by the conservative radio station KMJ 580 and their host, Christopher Gabriel, to discuss One Small Step and how the program aims to overcome toxic polarization. Listen to their conversation. KMJ is also running public service announcements about One Small Step.

On Sunday Morning Matters, hosted by Alexan Balekian on the local NBC affiliate station, Dave talks about the initiative and why StoryCorps is prioritizing the Central Valley. Watch their discussion. Dave and One Small Step were also featured in the Fresno Bee (pay wall).

For Darren Rose, who helped organize Dave’s visit and whose public relations firm, Rose Strategic Communications, partners with StoryCorps to spread the word, One Small Step is personal. Darren used to work in politics and said he feels that the desire to work across the political aisle has eroded. “We used to all work together, no matter our party affiliation. Now, we never work together,” he said. “All of my colleagues in their late 40s and early 50s recognize that things are broken. Working on One Small Step is one way we can help overcome this divide,” Darren continued.

For Darren, the best part of Dave’s visit was seeing how people reacted to the idea of One Small Step. “People are very receptive to the message that we need to overcome toxic polarization,” he said. “I’m grateful Fresno and the Central Valley is one of StoryCorps’ Anchor Communities to help facilitate necessary conversations in our community.”

Sign up to take One Small Step.

Public Radio Stations in Chattanooga, TN and Five Other Cities Named One Small Step Radio Station Hubs

Each year, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, StoryCorps partners with public radio stations, known as One Small Step Radio Station Hubs, to develop their own One Small Step program in their communities. In addition to five other cities, we’re excited to partner with WUTC in Chattanooga, TN. Read the press release (pdf).

”Chattanooga is becoming bigger and denser every day and every effort is being made to make it a more tolerant and inclusive city,” Will Davis, Faculty and Outreach Manager at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga said. “One Small Step embodies our community’s goals.”

Davis continued, “With One Small Step, we want to make new friends and make a difference. We’re going to abandon our egos, listen to each other, and care. We want to be part of an empathy revolution.”

WUTC is based at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where students are very interested in One Small Step, according to Davis. “Today’s student population is more diverse than ever and they really want to get the respect thing right,” he said. “I’m looking forward to leading the charge to make our One Small Step efforts student-centered, as well as community-based.” 

This year, we’re also excited to bring One Small Step to WDET, in Detroit, MI; KSUT, in Ignacio, CO; Georgia Public Broadcasting radio stations across the state of Georgia; WHQR, in Wilmington, NC; and WTIP, in Grand Marais, MN. Our partnership with each station includes training and production assistance to help expand the impact of One Small Step in these communities. 

Trained station staff members will facilitate and record conversations between community residents of differing political persuasions, and selected interviews will be shared across each station’s media platforms. Stations will also team up with a variety of community organizations to spread the word, and will collaborate with StoryCorps to match participants and record conversations through the end of the year. The project also includes a series of public listening events, streamed online. 

Learn more about the recording dates and locations in these communities.

In Wichita, One Small Step Takes Hold

Located in south-central Kansas, Wichita is a mid-sized city with an active business community. When StoryCorps first proposed making Wichita an Anchor Community for One Small Step, we were fortunate to connect with Damon Young, Chief Business Officer at the Kansas Leadership Center and the 2022 Wichita Chamber of Commerce Board Chair.

Young first met StoryCorps Founder and President Dave Isay at a Rotary Club meeting. He immediately saw the potential for One Small Step to help bridge divisions in the local community and the potential role businesses could play to help elevate this work.

Young invited Isay to speak at the Chamber luncheon to share more about StoryCorps, the power of listening to one another’s stories, and to discuss One Small Step and why it’s important for the business community to be involved in this effort.

At the March Chamber luncheon, Young remarked, “Toxic polarization and isolation grow when they’re ignored, and they feed off of each other.” He sees clearly the role of debate in today’s society to help overcome toxic polarization. “Reasonable voices running away from debate only elevate unreasonable ones.” Young believes that leaning into each other’s stories can help us find common ground.

Grounded in contact theory, ​​which suggests that strangers from different social and cultural groups can come to like and accept one another when they have repeated opportunities to interact, One Small Step helps bring people together for one-on-one conversations.

According to Lisa Gale, StoryCorps’ Chief Program Officer, “Wichita’s enthusiasm to participate in One Small Step was off the charts.” She said, “there is real pride that their city was chosen to do this work and they’re embracing it, thinking of ideas on how to spread the word and get more people involved.”

The efforts in Wichita are providing StoryCorps with on-the-ground insight about how best to bring One Small Step to other communities. “The ground game is incredibly important to our success,” Gale said. “Our community outreach efforts are not ‘cookie cutter.’ Each community is different. Wichita is an incredibly dynamic small city, oriented in a particular way to do this work. We have champions like Damon in this effort, and we can leverage the lessons from our outreach in Wichita to expand One Small Step efforts in other cities.”

In addition to Wichita, Oklahoma City, OK; Richmond, VA; and Fresno/Central Valley, CA are Anchor Communities for One Small Step in 2022. For each city, StoryCorps engages a local public relations firm to secure media coverage and connect us with the community, creates a Community Advisory Group, implements localized advertising and promotional campaigns, engages with partner organizations and individuals, and brings the community together with special events.

Stay tuned for more news from our One Small Step Anchor Communities.

 

Photos from Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce by Milt Mounts / Essential Images Photography

Radio Stations Share Their Community’s Experiences with One Small Step

What is it like to promote and facilitate One Small Step conversations in communities across the country? Each year, StoryCorps partners with a small cohort of public radio stations to help them create and lead their own One Small Step programs locally. In 2021, six stations spent the year matching residents across towns and neighborhoods, and then facilitating about 25 One Small Step conversations each. At the year’s end, they shared with us their biggest takeaways and discoveries.

Overwhelmingly, the people we spoke with said One Small Step has been a welcome addition to their station’s programming. “Our team was not only excited to hear what these conversations would sound like here in Oklahoma, but for the opportunity to help connect community members to each other and provide them a way to get outside of their echo chambers,” said Kateleigh Mills of KOSU in Oklahoma City, OK.

In Reno, NV, bi-lingual radio station KUNR Public Radio and Noticiero Móvil were encouraged to participate in One Small Step to continue their station’s experience with Spanish/English bilingual reporting and audio production. “One Small Step intrigued our team. Specifically, the idea of journalism centered on community conversations, with less of a prioritization of producing broadcast content, was interesting to us. This type of intentional engagement work aligns well with our philosophy of grounding bilingual reporting and engagement work in community participation,” said Natalie Van Hoozer of KUNR Public Radio and Noticiero Móvil.

“Vermont has a reputation as being a bastion of liberal politics, but the reality is so much more nuanced than that. VPR saw this project as an opportunity to explore some of the deep themes running through our state’s cultural identity — urban/rural divides, our working landscapes, and what it means to be ‘a Vermonter,’“ Kari Anderson of Vermont Public Radio said.

“While California is typically known as an overwhelmingly ‘blue’ state, the political makeup of our region is much more complicated,” said Sonia Mehrmand of KVPR — Valley Public Radio in California. “While the San Joaquin Valley’s rural and suburban areas are reliably white and Republican, the urban areas and some other smaller towns are increasingly ‘blue state’ areas, electing Democrats to office, with large Latinx populations as well as other diverse communities,” she said. “We felt that this political and demographic split within our region, which is less common in the rest of California, made our station and our region an ideal fit for StoryCorps One Small Step.”

Each station we spoke with shared moments of discovery and excitement about participating in One Small Step.

Facilitator Betty Smith with Vermont Public Radio said, “Given the isolation of both the pandemic and the current political atmosphere, I probably shouldn’t have been — but I was surprised to see the tangible proof of such a deep desire on the part of many for connection. And I re-learned the old lesson that it takes two … who are willing to try.”

“I, personally, was really moved by the littlest connections these strangers made — from wanting to invite each other to dinner to continue the conversation — to starting a new DnD [Dungeons and Dragons] group, people were looking to connect and grow understanding within themselves through the lives and perspectives of others that share their community,” Mills said.

Mills went on to share, “We recorded a conversation between a man who lived in a smaller town who had changed his party from Republican to Libertarian. We paired him with a liberal transgender woman in Oklahoma City — who lived in one of the few districts that leans more Democratic. In a post-conversation interview we had with the Libertarian man, he said he wasn’t sure he would have ever been in a place to talk to someone like his One Small Step partner that day and was hoping that there would be other outlets to continue these conversations respectfully and intentionally.”

“Some of my favorite memories of the program that I consider to be ‘break-through’ moments for participants come at the end of the conversations,” said Van Hoozer. “I had at least five different conversation pairs exchange contact information so they could continue their conversations after the One Small Step discussion was over. One pair recently let me know that they got their families together for dinner after meeting during One Small Step, and it was a positive experience.”

Anderson of Vermont Public Radio summarized the sentiment we heard from every radio station. “It has been so humbling to see people holding each other’s hearts so carefully, to be so thoughtful and open and candid in the course of these conversations,” she said.

 

StoryCorps thanks the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for its support of One Small Step’s radio station partnerships. One Small Step is also made possible by the generous support of The Hearthland Foundation, the Fetzer Institute, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Charles Koch Institute.

This Valentine’s Day, Record an Interview with Someone You Love

Recording an interview is one of the most meaningful ways you can spend time with someone and demonstrate your love and affection. At the end of the interview, you’ll have a recording you can revisit again and again and pass down to future generations; it’s a gift that lasts a lifetime. 

Give a StoryCorps interview coupon as a gift to a loved one this Valentine’s Day!

Here’s how it works:

Resources:

Read through our Great Questions for ideas for your conversation. When you’re ready to record your interview, you can either download the free StoryCorps App to your smartphone or record remotely through your web browser with StoryCorps Connect. There are resources for both platforms on our website:

“My StoryCorps experience” – A letter from Jason Reynolds

If you’re following StoryCorps, it’s because you understand the importance of stories. You know that they cultivate our wisdom, decrease our fear of the other, and inspire us in every possible way.

StoryCorps has taken its belief in the power of stories and amplified it to an unbelievable scale. The StoryCorps archive at the Library of Congress is already the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered, and it’s still growing. 

Sharing my story with StoryCorps more than fifteen years ago gave me a chance to talk about my dreams out loud. And working as a StoryCorps facilitator was a constant source of inspiration. My time with StoryCorps showed me that every single person has a story, and every one of our stories has the potential to change somebody’s outlook on life. 

I don’t care who or where you are…this year was hard for you. This year was complicated for you. We’re all seeing ourselves in different ways, communicating in different ways, and our stories have evolved. Now, more than ever, they need to be told. Division, otherness and fear are ripping our social fabric into jagged pieces. To restitch and repair our nation we must dig deep into our wells of understanding and compassion, and reconnect through the kinds of stories produced only by authentically sharing the most meaningful and authentic parts of ourselves with each other.

That’s what StoryCorps does. They use stories to sew our national tapestry of hope, trying to keep us whole in the face of hatred and division. That’s why I’ll always be a StoryCorps supporter. 

Storytelling is about bearing witness. It’s about seeing and being seen. It’s about hearing and being heard. And there’s no person I’ve ever met who doesn’t want, at least a little bit, to be understood by someone else. StoryCorps gives us a platform upon which to build that understanding. They’ve even adapted to the demands of the pandemic by creating a virtual storytelling platform, giving even greater reach and accessibility to this important work. 

Will you join me in supporting StoryCorps? Their work has never been more vital. Despite their awesome accomplishments so far, there are still tens of millions of Americans who feel unseen and unheard, at great cost to us all. With your help, StoryCorps can continue to grow their reach to preserve and share humanity’s stories, providing us all with inspiration, courage, and hope. 

Stay safe,

Jason Reynolds
StoryCorps Board Member

Listen to an excerpt from Jason Reynolds’s 2006 StoryCorps interview.

Photo Credit: James J. Reddington

Our Commitment to You

Since our founding in 2003, we’ve preserved stories from more than half a million people–moments and experiences that have meaningfully shaped the life of an individual storyteller and, when heard by others, have the potential to encourage us to view one another with greater empathy and compassion. Our lives may look different, but our humanity connects us all. 

When you give to StoryCorps, you can give with confidence knowing that we take stewardship of your gift seriously. StoryCorps has earned the highest possible rating, four stars, from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent evaluator of nonprofit organizations. This four-star rating demonstrates fiscal excellence and a commitment to accountability and transparency. Explore ways to give that make sense for you.

We Don’t Just Have One Identity

A conversation with More in Common’s co-founder, Tim Dixon

The holiday season at the end of such a tense, tumultuous year feels like an open invitation, if not a demand, to reflect on the importance of thoughtful, constructive dialogue. Whether you’re preparing to engage with challenging relatives or simply aching for a break from conflict at work or in the news, there has never been a better time to take stock of the divides we face as individuals and as a nation, and what role we can play in bridging those divides. 

We recently sat down with Tim Dixon, a co-founder of More in Common, an organization committed to building “more united, inclusive, and resilient societies in which people believe that what they have in common is stronger than what divides them.” Their work includes robust research, coalition building, and on-the-ground action. Tim and More in Common are widely respected as thought leaders in this work, and we’re grateful to work alongside their team. 

Tim has been a fan of StoryCorps’ work for a long time. An economist by training, he has always understood the value of people’s stories, and the harm that can be done by unnecessarily dehumanizing inherently human processes, like education and politics. Tim first connected with StoryCorps while making long commutes from Sydney to Canberra while working in Australian politics. Tim was an economic advisor and speech writer for two Prime Ministers, and found the StoryCorps podcasts a useful way to rest his brain and recenter himself amidst constant political conflict. 

Our teams more recently connected over a groundbreaking report published by More in Common’s U.S. team. The report, Hidden Tribes of America, received nationwide attention for its frank, evidence-based assessment of not only what is dividing us, but also where we can find common ground. The report gave a much-needed refutation to two harmful misconceptions about U.S. society: that our problems are simple (“there are two teams and they hate each other!”), and unsolvable (“and we’re too divided to heal!”). 

The “50/50 split” we’re told exists so unequivocally in the United States is an oversimplified, unhelpful, and ultimately inaccurate story. The Hidden Tribes report unearthed a different story, Tim told us: “While the divisions are very strong, it really is not a story of a 50/50 split. A majority of Americans are exhausted with conflict.” The report coined the phrase “Exhausted Majority,” which the authors use to describe 67% of people in the U.S. who identify as ideologically flexible, pro-compromise, tired of U.S. politics, and feeling forgotten in political debate. They feel trapped in a system of conflict in which they don’t feel like they fully belong to any team. 

The work of More in Common and One Small Step naturally complement each other in building bridges across these extreme, but not impassable, divides. Hidden Tribes is just one example of the robust research portfolio Tim and his team have developed to help us map and more deeply understand the individuals, ideologies, and experiences that make up society. One Small Step helps to, as Tim put it, “humanize people with differing view points.” 

We spoke with Tim at length about what our teams are learning about bridging these divisions. He emphasized a point well-illustrated by the Hidden Tribes study – the need to strengthen our understanding of the many identities that make up each person. “We’re never just one thing,” Tim said. “You’re not just a Republican. You’re not just an evangelical. You’re not just a climate activist. We all have multiple identities.” But in this moment, it’s pretty clear that one identity – political ideology – is being elevated above everything else. This reductive, monolithic approach is deeply harmful on both an individual and a social level. Tim’s approach is exactly aligned with One Small Step’s: bridge-building. Through an honest understanding of complex identity, start with what we have in common. We were both raised on farms. We both left our hometowns for college. We both love football. Establish a simple foundation of trust, and from a place of trust, you can begin to engage with the ways you are different. When people are reduced to one aspect of their identity, difference is the only thing we see. We’re cast in opposing positions: one person is team Red; another is team Blue. We know this way of thinking is unhelpful, and Tim and his team have shown it’s not even close to accurate.

How do we establish connection, build a foundation of trust, while still engaging in authentic discussion of our differences? We share our stories. We share our stories to disrupt the belief that disagreement is all or nothing, that to be different is to be opposed. We share our stories to restore belief in a universal, baseline connection, remembering that being really different is nowhere near the same as being completely different. Tim said it best: 

“As someone who grew up in another country, I have always loved that boundless optimism that has historically characterized Americans all across the country in different ways. And I still find it among Americans from all walks of life, from small towns to big cities. But it’s never felt more absent from the media and in our national life than it does right now. To get out of the moment we’re in, people will have to start believing in themselves and start believing in other Americans again. And how do you do that? We are living in information environments that are distorting our view of the world. Our information silos and the partisan media exaggerate the number of people with extreme views and don’t give voice to the large number of people who want to build bridges, to see each other as human beings again, to play a part in dialing down the culture of contempt. We are stuck in information loops. But the one thing that can cut through is stories. The stories coming out of One Small Step are a really important way forward. They’re a way out.