Transcript

Judy Woodruff: In a world these days of Zoom and FaceTime, conversation might be more critical than ever to find connection.

Here is a Brief But Spectacular take from renowned designer Fred Dust on how we can all talk better together.

Fred Dust: I’m talking to you from my kitchen.

The reason why is, I think the first technology that stole conversation away from us was television. No offense, “PBS NewsHour.” I love you. But the moment that we gave our — like, our dinner over to television, which we did in about the ’50s, we started to lose conversation in America, in the world.

My mother happened to be a really phenomenal listener. She has just kind of one of those faces. However, my mother had a stroke when I was 24 and wasn’t really able to listen as well ever again.

When you can lose someone, where she is gone in some capacity, you start realizing your life needs to be really full. And I realized my life had to be full by actually meeting as many people and having as many conversations as I possibly could.

I was a gay kid raised in a private school by my father who was a headmaster who wanted the perfect son. So, I had to play soccer and date cheerleaders. And so I was pretty lost into a persona that wasn’t me.

At the same time, AIDS had hit. So we were seeing basically the genocide of gay men. And I was afraid at that point to kind of come out.

But when I finally did, it was ACT UP. It was an activist organization that focused on art, creativity and AIDS that I really ended up working with.

Conversations at their best are conversations where people feel like they’re safe. And there is a lot that you can design into a conversation that does that.

I had somebody hunting our property, and I saw his truck, which had a bunch of stickers of a candidate that I wasn’t voting for. And so I just walked down, and I introduced myself. And we just talked for awhile.

And I said hey, just FYI, like, if you are hunting, we have a dog. We have kids running around. Just be careful. He is like, no problem.

And then I was like, hey, and, also, we love venison, so drop by some venison.

So, we didn’t even have a conversation about politics. We just had a conversation about him, his son. And that’s the beginning of a conversation that we can have for a long period of time.

I also have a counterintuitive idea for conversation, which is, when you can’t talk to somebody, just make something with them.

So, I had a young woman who emailed me recently saying her father is teaching her how to play golf because she doesn’t want to talk about politics.

I feel like everything in the world is designed. The role of design or creativity is to think very, very carefully about the things that you make. One of the most important things we make is conversation. Conversations fuel change every time you have a conversation.

My name is Fred Dust, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on making conversation.

Judy Woodruff: And you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular segments on our website. That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.