Living Room Conversations Are Like Fugues

By: Rodney Ferguson

Before everyone gets too drunk, in most college dorms, lively political discussions erupt sometimes after dinner. This is bound to happen when you get a bunch of young people from all of the country and world crammed into a dorm. The problem is that even in this diverse group, there is an incredible amount of homogeneity in thinking. Everyone thinks like a college student. The problem with co-eds is that they are all in the process of becoming who they truly are. Now they don’t always agree, in fact they seldom do; but the inexperience of such students is the most telling aspect of their arguments. If they do argue from experience, it tends to be their personal experience. Late-night college conversations are like musical concerts that lack cohesion, timing, and respect for fellow band members. No one is playing their instruments—they are still learning their instruments. But the fact is I loved collegiate discussion.It was one of the best things about college.

As I’ve gotten much older, my circle of friends although larger, tends to be less politically diverse. I live in Oakland, Ca. If California is a blue state, then the Bay Area is ultraviolet, and yes, I am a liberal on most issues. As soon as folks have a choice they slowly tend to live and work with people that see the world in the same way that they do.

Now, I have participated in two Living Room Conversations. The first conversation ended up being rather wide ranging as we dealt with many topics, the second focused specifically on immigration policy. Both were thoughtful and tactful and everyone involved listened carefully to everyone else. Humans are most engaged by what surprises them and has great emotional impact. Talking with people who do not share your values, goals, and beliefs disrupts the cool, unearned comfort of living with unchallenged opinions.

No one in our Living Room Conversation group has lived in a dorm for a long time, but those memories are still swimming around in our subconscious memories. Having grown into mature, relatively more circumspect people, it was illuminating for all of us to have a civil conversation with strangers who are well-informed, well-read, and smart, but totally disagree with most everything we hold dear.

In a musical ensemble, different instruments have different roles. Whereas college conversations tend to be a cacophony of myriad opinions, Living Room Conversations, because of their structure, co-hosts, and carefully constructed questions, sound more like fugues highlighting the differences and similarities in backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles.