Conversations can be difficult and even painful. That much is clear to anyone with close friends or a significant other. But it can be just as painful when conversation ceases – because both sides have forgotten how to listen to each other.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that our society has been gripped by just such a silence. Which is why, as part of our new special section #D17, we are launching an experiment: a project called Germany Talks.
On the afternoon of Sunday, June 18, we want to get Germans talking to Germans – a true dialogue involving the open exchange of opposing views and arguments. Face to face, across the country. No politicians, just you and another ZEIT ONLINE reader in your area.
Starting now, you will find here and on many other ZEIT ONLINE pages five fundamental political questions that you can answer with "yes" or "no." If you do so, and also share your postal code, we will look for someone who lives in your area. A person who, like yourself, wants to talk – but who has an entirely different view of the important political issues of the day.
If our plan works, nuclear proponents and opponents, EU fans and skeptics, Merkel detractors and refugee volunteers will meet up for a discussion at 3 p.m. on June 18. Our hope is that you will spend an interesting hour and perhaps even learn something about your discussion partner and their views. We would be greatly pleased if we could get Germans talking to Germans again.
And that, really, is all we want. Why? We believe that the growing difficulties we are having with understanding each other represents a grave danger to our society. It is too often the case that arguments no longer matter, and that they are picked apart in hermetically sealed filter bubbles and not in face-to-face discussions. But if you make assumptions about what truly lies behind the convictions of others, you lose the possibility for real exchange and insight. There is such a thing as patriotic environmentalists, EU fans who are worried about immigration, and economic liberals for whom societal cohesion is important. In the last two years, some may have developed the impression that there are only proponents and opponents of the system, elites and those who have been left behind, do-gooders and deplorables. Together with you, we want to find out how things really stand.
The U.S. and the U.K. have recently demonstrated what happens when the conversation stops. Even if Germany isn't nearly as polarized, when people fall silent and turn away from each other, something changes in our country. And not for the better.
Which is why we would like to encourage you to answer the questions and register – and meet somebody who thinks completely differently from you. On June 18 as part of Germany Talks.
All information you provide will be used exclusively for this project. Telephone numbers entered will only be used to confirm a person's existence. Neither your telephone number nor your email address will be passed along without your approval. Once we have found you a possible conversation partner, you will have the opportunity accept or reject a meeting based on the answers that person has provided.
Translated by Charles Hawley und Daryl Lindsey