During this time of intense political polarization on both sides of the border, Mexican actor Diego Luna’s new show, Pan y Circo, is striking because it shows the viewer what real conversation looks like and reminds us of the importance of being heard.
Each episode is a dinner conversation with curated topics, food and guests. A marvelous chef is highlighted and prepares the meal. The dinner table filled with people, brought together because of their own personal experience with the chosen topic. Luna facilitates, modeling respectful conversation. He asks questions and listens to the discussion. All are heard. Even the chef participates in the conversation. While the discussion can be intense, no one shouts.
I am not Pollyannaish about how political discourse was done in the past. The polarization being experienced in Mexico and the United States is not historically unique. Nonetheless, we are not in a good place and today’s social media fosters polarization and confirmations our own biases. When you communicate through social media you are talking almost entirely with people who already agree with you – your “friends” on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Your friends, who mostly hold similar beliefs, send you feedback generally confirming your pre-existing biases. It is a self-reinforcing circuit.
Pan y Circo attempts to break this circuit by showing an issue discussed, with time for nuance in hopes of build new understanding.
In politics there is a phrase, “Where you sit is where you stand.” How you view an issue is shaped by how you experience it. We don’t all come from the same experience. To build understanding, and ultimately more constructive and less polarizing public policy, we need to hear how problems are experienced by others.
I read critiques of the show online to see opinions other than my own. Some found that the perspectives represented on the show were not divergent enough. I know some of those who sat around his table and they do not all agree with each other. But they shared their views in a respectful manner. Having sets of dinner guests screaming at each other would not achieve the goal of better understanding.
An adage in the field of communications is, “It is not what you say, but how you are heard.” We all want to be heard. With Pan y Circo, questions are posed and answers given in a non-hostile environment. It is easier to be heard in an environment of mutual respect.
This show is about civility, conversation and understanding an issue from someone else’s experience. But, the I think it does more than that. Hearing another’s experience and understanding it in a new way can create empathy. And empathy allows us all to relate to a problem differently and moderate our own views.
Kudos to Diego Luna for not complaining about the political polarization but attempting to be constructive by bringing us examples of the rare conversation.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson