JERSEY CITY, NJ — The natural place to meet Emma Taylor is behind her counter. She runs an ice cream shop. She’s usually busy, but always up to chat.
A year ago, she reached outside — way outside. She rode her motorcycle across America to experience the country and start conversations.
“The trip shook me loose," she said. "It really made me realize I might need a change myself."
Headlines and studies show up seemingly daily about a divided America. A Pew study found:
- 42% of Americans believe there are strong conflicts between people who live in urban areas versus those in rural ones
- 49% see conflict among those who practice different religions
- 71% see it among those with different racial or ethnic backgrounds
- 90% see it between political parties
Last year, Taylor said she broke through that division. She conversed at barstools and countertops with people who sometimes shared her worldview. Almost always, she found a path to connection, which she swore to protect once she came home.
“I’m sad that it feels like we’re more divided generally as a country,” Taylor said. “I think assumptions are the worst thing you could possibly have.”
When asked if she lives in a bubble, Taylor responded, “Yeah, this is a bubble. This is definitely a ten-year bubble.
“For me, it feels like we’re falling further apart. Like when you read the news, it’s really discouraging. But when I have in-person conversations, it feels like it’s more possible,” Taylor added.
And that’s where this story takes a twist. A rising number of studies suggest we perceive polarization as worse than it is. The group Beyond Conflict found, over a series of surveys, that “Americans believe that members of the other party dehumanize, dislike, and disagree with their own party about twice as much as they actually do.” They also found “significant misperceptions about the amount of disagreement” on major issues like gun control and immigration.
Taylor learned this lesson on her trip. The hard part has been keeping that lesson alive, now back in her bubble. But she’s doing it.
“We're all deserving of respect on this planet, as humans," said Taylor. "So I can have a conversation with you and be diametrically opposed to what you believe in. I don't see why not."