On March 8, StoryCorps Founder & President Dave Isay sat down for a virtual fireside with Dr. Peter T. Coleman, a One Small Step (OSS) advisor and professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University. Peter also directs the University’s Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, among other appointments. The purpose of the event, moderated by StoryCorps’ Strategic Adviser to the CEO Chris Norris, was to give OSS supporters an update on the initiative and a preview of where it’s headed.

Following introductions, viewers were shown a clip from the 2022 OSS “60 Minutes” segment and Dave talked about the evolution of OSS, an effort to remind the country of the humanity in all of us, even those with whom we disagree. He noted that later this year, the initiative will launch a comprehensive, self-facilitated digital tool allowing more people to experience an OSS conversation and that OSS will expand to more communities. 

Dave pointed out that many OSS participants become friends after the experience, a result he called “exhilarating,” and he showed a video clip (“audio card”) to underscore this. In the audio card, OSS participants Jerome and Warren, both from Richmond, VA, provide a recap of their conversation and the warmth between them is palatable. Jerome remarks, “You are a dear, dear friend and I can’t imagine you not being in my life …” to which Warren responds simply, …”It’s been reciprocal.”

Dave also affirmed the value of the “Brain Trust”: a group of expert advisors—composed of social scientists, researchers, and psychologists—who help guide OSS. He then introduced research conducted by Brain Trust member Tim Dixon and his organization, More in Common, which showed, among other results, that people across the political spectrum were moved by OSS content and that it increased viewers’ desire to have their own cross-partisan conversation by almost fifty percent.  

After being introduced by Dave, Peter talked about the bridge building space, observing that, “Many groups are bringing people together across the divide but oftentimes, move them prematurely into debate. One thing OSS did from the beginning was to test this and … start with people just getting to know each other and sharing stories, things they have in common …” He also commended Dave for conducting interviews across a spectrum of media outlets, explaining, “People are more receptive and open to ideas from their trusted media sources,” so messages delivered on these channels creates “high social impact.”

Before the Q&A session, Dave asked Peter to share a story illustrating how people’s preconceived notions of “the other” can be challenged when they meet up close. While conducting research during the 2001-02 Intifada—a time of increased violence and tension between Israel and Palestine—Peter relayed that many of interviewees had experienced a surprise encounter with a member from “the other side.” 

He recounted how a Palestinian woman told him that, as a child, she was playing with her friends when a Jewish man approached. She thought of him as the devil, but then he put down a plate of cookies and said they were for the children, so reluctantly, they ate them. Later, the woman remembered that moment as introducing a “crack in the certainty that the ‘other’ was bad” and it has affected how she views Jewish people ever since. Similarly, OSS brings people together in an effort to remind us that we have more in common than divides us.

The talk concluded with a Q&A session and some questions weren’t answered due to time constraints. To read Dave’s responses to some of these additional questions, click here.