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One Small Step wants people to disagree agreeably

Three people sitting at a table. A woman wearing a black skull cap speaks into a microphone. A man with greying hair in a pony-tail listens. The third person is a man wearing headphones and taking notes.
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Two recent One Small Step participants talk about their experience while a moderator listens and takes notes about their conversation.

This StoryCorps initiative pairs people with disparate beliefs for a cordial discussion.

Two One Small Step participants discuss their experience with a moderator. The participants enter a nondescript break room packed with tables and chairs. Coffee, tea and snacks sit at one table.

Everyone there had volunteered to take part in One Small Step, a program that brings people from different backgrounds together for conversations.

“It is designed to bring strangers together, strangers that are from opposite ends of a political spectrum, to have a moderated 50-minute conversation about what they actually have in common instead of what divides them,” said Frazier Millner Armstrong, One Small Step community curator.

One Small Step, which launched in 2021, is a program put on by StoryCorps.

“People were tired of being divided and really wanted an opportunity to sort of come together and talk about what they had in common. So, One Small Step was born,” Millner Armstrong said.

Richmond — along with cities in Georgia, California and Kansas — is one of four model communities conducting these conversations, — which happen both virtually and in-person. Nearly 5,000 people from 40 states have recorded One Small Step interviews. Richmond has hosted more than 500 of those discussions.

Millner Armstrong said Richmonders have embraced the program, that the city’s participation as a “model community has outpaced” some other One Small Step cities.

“We recognize that to move forward, we have to have the hard conversations,” she said.

One Small Step is based on a scientific theory that meaningful interactions between people with opposing views can help bond people and result in not thinking of strangers as “others.” The program is supported by an advisory team made up of scientists, researchers and psychologists.

Participants Susan Tetterton and Stuart Scott
One Small Step
Susan Tetterton and Stuart Scott posed for a photo during their One Small Step session.

Susan Tetterton of Richmond has sought to engage with new and disparate ideas after growing up in a conservative part of Virginia. She thought the program could offer her an exciting opportunity to meet new people.

“When I went into this One [Small] Step conversation, I realized this is not an argument. This is not trying to convince the other,” Tetterton said. “It’s a way to take a look at another person and their perspective that I haven’t thought of.”

Tetterton participated in a conversation, which took place in October 2023 at The Library of Virginia. She was partnered with Stuart Scott, a leader in the Richmond chapter of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scott grew up in Richmond and now lives in Mechanicsville.

“Here was a chance for me to articulate my views, my feelings and the things that helped develop me to be that way, without any obstructions,” Scott said. “We had a lot in common. ... And I hope that those that try this opportunity will come away with the same experience, realize that from different parts of the world, we may be, but we’re just so similar.”

One Small Step is following up with past participants to better understand the impact of their conversations. Millner Armstrong said they’re also considering ways to expand the program across Central Virginia.

“Right now, particularly as we head into this challenging year, folks are looking for something that they can do to feel like they have reached out,” Millner Armstrong said. “They have found a way through One Small Step to have a conversation that bridges a divide.”

Disclosure: VPM Media Corporation partnered with StoryCorps in 2021 to launch One Small Step in Richmond. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting sponsors the program.

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