In the aftermath of one of the most divisive and tumultuous election cycles in history, it can be especially tempting to hit the "unfollow" button when you see political statuses you don't agree with pop up on social media, or to leave the room when conversation turns to politics at the dinner table. But, now more than ever, it's important to engage rather than disengage. At least, that's the idea behind the Watch Us Run Pen Pal Program, an initiative started by Bustle and The Huffington Post that seeks to connect women with different political views, prompt conservation, and help people on opposite sides of the political spectrum to understand one another better.
You probably had a pen pal in elementary school, but the Watch Us Run Pen Pal Program is a little different — namely, because the point is to have conversations that get people out of their comfort zones. It might not sound like fun at first, but it's super important. And that's not just my opinion; researchers have been looking at the effects of so-called internet echo chambers for years. It should come as no surprise that, according to University of Oxford's Jonathan Bright, "exposure to a diverse range of viewpoints is crucial for developing well informed citizens," and "exposure to only like-minded voices may contribute towards polarization towards ideological extremes."
The beauty of the pen pal program — rather than, say, your next family get-together full of heated disagreements — is that you will get to hear women's perspectives, have conversations that are actually productive, and maybe even make a new friend in the process. See? That doesn't sound bad at all.
Signing up for the program is insanely simple — all you have to do is click on this form here, fill in a few questions, and hit submit. The rest is taken care of for you. Then, once you've been connected with someone, reach out ASAP. Not sure what to say? Here are a few suggested prompts to get you started:
Why are you interested in joining this pen pal program?
First things first, find out why your new pen pal is even here. Right off the bat, it's clear you two already have something in common — you're both interested in hearing about other people's political beliefs.
What three political issues are most important to you, and why?
It's possible you might have more in common than you think. Either way, you'll definitely have something to talk about.
Where do you hope to see our country in four years?
It's not an easy question, but it's certainly one worth considering.
Beyond politics, what are some things you care about and enjoy?
Whether you enjoy spending your time volunteering with friends or watching old Law & Order: SVU episodes on repeat, let your pen pal know what makes you happiest.
What's the one thing you want someone on the other side of the aisle to understand about you?
It can be anything — tell your pen pal what makes your wheels turn.
So sign up for the pen pal program, and get ready to break out of your comfort zone. And remember, be respectful and open-minded as you email back and forth. After all, that's the whole point of this project — communication is the only way for real change to happen.