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Crossing Divides Live: What’s happening now?

Audience with eyes closed

The audience of 50 are currently in training sessions, learning deep listening techniques.

At 11:20 GMT they’ll be paired up with someone who they disagree with on a key issue.

In advance, they were asked the following questions:

Was it the right or wrong decision for Britain to vote to leave the European Union?

Are social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter a force for good, or bad?

Should driving be made more expensive to help make our air cleaner?

Is the UK welcoming to people from abroad?

Should obese people pay more tax to fund the NHS?

In the UK does personal progress depend on social class?

Are men and women equal in the UK today?

Is eating meat wrong?

Listen on BBC Sounds.

‘Should overweight people pay more tax to fund the NHS?’

How divided are we really?

Mark Easton

Home editor

All countries have their divisions and Britain is no exception.

We are not all the same. We don’t all think the same. And that can be healthy. Our democracy thrives on argument and debate.

But when those divisions result in behaviours and activities which cause anxiety and distress, when they diminish people’s quality of life, when they threaten the peace and order of a society – then those divides become unhealthy.

Politicians and community leaders talk of the need to heal Britain after the Brexit referendum, reflecting concerns that the deeply held divisions exposed in that debate threaten to spill over into behaviour which reduces social cohesion – the glue that holds our society together.

Human beings are hard-wired to respond to threat by fight or flight. It is uncomfortable for us to listen to opinions which challenge our own and we tend either to attack or withdraw. Respectful disagreement can feel unnatural.

Today’s listening exercise is an example of an approach called ‘meaningful interaction’, where individuals with different backgrounds and views come together to consider those differences. What tends to happen is that when people mix in that way they recognise their shared humanity and their hostility softens. They discover they can respectfully disagree.

The question, however, is how we might take that idea from an individual level to a societal level. Can we take the benefits of deep listening and scale them up in a way that brings whole communities and countries together?

Inside the inflatable 'echo chamber'

echo chamber

An echo chamber is an environment in which somebody encounters only opinions and beliefs similar to their own, and does not have to consider alternatives. (Oxford English dictionary)

For #CrossingDividesLive, we’ve got our own ‘Empathy Echo Chamber’ designed by Enni-Kukka Tuomala, which two of the audience, Trevor and Saima are currently experiencing!

Audience members

The echo chamber is an inflatable with a mirrored interior. People enter in pairs. Together they complete a short empathy experiment, sitting down together and drawing each other’s portraits.

Audience members

What’s the idea? Drawing each other means really looking at each other. In our daily lives we rarely take time to see the people in our lives in detail, let alone to look at the strangers that we encounter.

Listen to live coverage on BBC Sounds.