As this pandemic morphs into a new reality, I thought about the highlights and lowlights of my time sheltered in place.
The lowlights are common to many of us — Zoom glitches, other people, and unidentifiable clothing stains — to name a few.
One highlight is my foray into intergenerational Living Room Conversations.
Using Living Room Conversations’ new COVID Resources, I picked a subject, set up a call with six people, and in 60 minutes we connected with one another in profoundly moving ways, discussing parts of the human condition that connect us all. Despite the age span of over 60 years, common struggles emerged and we all got to feel seen and known by one another.
“Honestly, I was surprised. My aunt asked me to participate, so I said yes. Surprisingly, it was fun and interesting to connect with a diverse group of people [ages 22–82] about things that matter like COVID-19 and What Makes You Happy?”
— Alex, 22, a recent college graduate looking for a job in video production
Living Room Conversations is a project of Mediators Foundation, a 501(c)(3) whose mission is to reduce conflicts, and promote collaboration — a simple but lofty goal.
I discovered living Room Conversations when following the *humane technology movement, a campaign to reverse the harms of tech giants controlling human thoughts and behavior.
Living Room Conversations’ unique online platform is purpose-built to connect people and enhance relationships — not to encourage likes, views, or hours of passive content consumption.
Since the lockdown, Living Room Conversations has created a series of conversation guides specific to the Pandemic such as: Alone, Solitude or Isolation, Finding Meaning, Loss, and Grief, Hope in Action, Information in Time of Corona, Technology and Relationships, and the many feelings we’re all processing during this crisis.
“We’re thrilled to hear from so many people that our platform and guides are helping,” said Joan Blades, a founding member of Living Room Conversations. “We started Living Room Conversations because of polarization, but shifted to connection because of the global need. People need new ways to understand the news and find their moral rudder during this crisis.”
I was so inspired by my initial Living Room Conversation, I wanted to try hosting my own. The platform is intended to be used by anyone, in fact that’s the point and hope of the project. The first step was to find some people with whom to have a conversation so I started with some easy “gets” — my 81-year-old mother and her friends, my teenage daughter, and young adult nieces and nephews.
Living Room Conversations’ structured conversation guides and the Shelter in Place mandate, allowed me to talk to people in my family and friends in ways I couldn’t have otherwise imagined. For example, I’ve known my nieces and nephews since they were born and our conversations usually go something like this:
Me: What’s up?
Me: What are you doing this summer?
Me: Friend me on Instagram.
Max: That’s not a thing.
Yet, when I got Max alone on a video call, in a structured conversation about Isolation vs. Loneliness, this was the kind of exchange that organically surfaced.
“I find myself oscillating between dread and fear and hope and faith. It’s emotionally draining to stay hopeful that everything’s going to be okay.”
— Max, 18 year old high school senior in Roselle, Illinois
And it wasn’t just my relatives. As directed by Living Room Conversations, I asked my mother to invite two friends to get different perspectives, neither of whom I’ve spent more than a few minutes speaking to in my life. And one of them discussed her feelings, quite similar to Max’s.
“Sometimes I feel weary and overwhelmed. I can do creative things alone for a while, like poetry and singing, but then my mood changes to sad. The creativity inside me comes out when I’m with people.”
— One of the older participants in the conversation
Living Room Conversations offered me a fascinating new way to understand myself, learn about the young people in my life, and understand the struggles of older adults coping with this Pandemic.
You’ve Been Duped by Technology
Leading up to the Pandemic, polarization in America had skyrocketed and not just due to the…ahem…unique circumstances of the upcoming election. As mortals, there’s a far more powerful adversary to fight affecting our mental health — for-profit tech giants.
Here’s a primer. Social media companies use artificial intelligence to create a blueprint, or more disturbingly, a voodoo doll, of us based on terabytes of data they collect from our explicit behavior on the Web. Based on our digital profile, these tech companies serve us “news” infused with our social, economic, and political biases to keep us engaged. Disguised as a stream of information, the more “news” we consume, the more stories appear with people, places and things to confirm our biases.
Ironically, Living Room Conversations’ ethos is to encourage people to reach across differences with the intent to listen and understand. Listening to others with opposing views offers a structured way to release each of us from the prison of our own myopia and understand people, places, and things they may have otherwise judged.
Although many of us wish for a better, unbiased way to get news and information, the tech giants have a stronghold that won’t be easy to break. In the meantime, here’s an easy way to practice learning about news and information in the world and you just may get to know your nieces and nephews.
How it Works
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how anyone, anywhere at any time can try to have a Living Room Conversation.
- Make a decision.
Decide to spend an hour investing in real-world relationships instead of Netflix’s market value.
- Invite a relative or friend.
Choose someone you’ve not heard from in a while, a person you’d like to know better, or a relative whose mental stability remains in question. The goal is to gather people with different life experiences and views, but for your first call, I recommend finding anyone with a pulse.
- Ask your invitee to invite other people.
Make your life easier by asking a friend to invite his/her/their friend. Suggest they dig deep and find a bird watcher, Insta-influencer, or Olympian in their social network, then try to stay calm. I chose people with thoughts and behavior that often elude me — teenagers and older adults.
- Pick a topic.
Topics are listed category, popularity, alphabetically or you can head to the Covid-19 resources page. You can review the topic prompts in advance, and download it, or have it open during the conversation. I don’t advise sending the topics to your group in advance as impromptu responses work better.
- Schedule a time.
I find weekend evenings work best across timezones. Note: young people tend to be nocturnal, while older folks prefer Early Bird Dinners.
- Choose a video conference service.
In addition to Zoom, Google has expanded functionality of its video platform and Facebook has launched Rooms.
- Chose a person(s) to host.
I hosted my own calls, and you can too as the script is written clearly. Or ask a friend to host and you can co-host. The host isn’t the boss of the call, he/she/they are akin to the person controlling the bank in Monopoly, a public service to the group.
- Enter it on your calendar.
Someone much smarter than me used to say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I enter the meeting and Zoom link in my calendar and invite the participants, then remind them the morning of the call as well.
- Let Living Room Conversations know how it went!
Spend JUST A FEW minutes letting them know how it went by filling out this quick online form, it makes all the difference in the world.
Living Room Conversations guides give you everything you need to have great conversations with your family or friends and their friends. If you have questions about how to do it yourself they have video, written materials and office hours to answer questions. Co-host with a friend you haven’t seen for a while and each invite two friends that you are curious to hear from — then have a great conversation. Don’t have your own video service? They can help! We have Zoom conference lines that we are sharing with Living Room Conversations users. Request one here.
Support a Platform for the Public Good
The Pandemic has made the need for services like Living Room Conversations more important than ever. Yet, due to the economic fallout, the project needs your HELP. Please donate to my personal crowdfunding page here. If you don’t care about democracy, tech addiction, or meaningful connection, make me look good and donate anyway — it’s cheaper than funding the mental health crisis resulting from political polarization, depression, isolation, and suicide. Or, you can donate to the organization directly here.