Rude things can be said, tempers can flare, and people can leave in a huff, be unfriended, over unpalatable points of view

Throw three, sometimes four, extremely articulate women into a studio, hand them mikes and an edgy and topical theme, and ask them what they think. The opinions come pouring out thick and fast, occasionally peppered with quips from significant others, parents and children.

This past week, they’re taking on the question: are royal families relevant anymore? Karla, one of the four, offers a perspective on why her children love princesses — “Because they’re the rulers of everything, and they get to do what they want!” There is much laughter, point and counterpoint, buttressed by references to research and popular culture, as the four debate different sides of the issue, reconsider their positions and sometimes even do an about turn.

All this is happening on Respectfully Disagree, a podcast series from The Swaddle, a digital platform that focuses on issues of health, gender, family and culture. Originally conceived in 2015 as a women’s health resource by entrepreneur Karla Bookman, the platform now produces a range of multimedia content distributed across social media, including a video series called Overthinking it, audio docuseries, interviews and podcasts.

Focus areas

The conversations — or debates — on Respectfully Disagree have revolved around topics relating to the four broad focus areas mentioned above, in ways that draw from the experiences of millennials and GenZ and reflect what the host Srishti describes as issues they “passionately differ on”. These can range — like the relevance of royalty — from what’s trending in popular culture, to the more personal, such as “How okay is it to date someone much younger?” or “Do friendships require emotional boundaries” or even the kind of burning ethical question that can drive a wedge between the best of friends: “Is eating meat ethical?”

Civil dialogue

Okay, maybe not questions of life and death, but things we all talk about, all the time, over cups of chai in college canteens, around the dining table at home, furiously texting back and forth in our online groups. Rude things can be said, tempers can flare, and people can leave in a huff, be unfriended, over unpalatable points of view. In the 30 minutes or so of these conversations, Srishti and her small crowd — Rajvi, Aditi, Karla, and sometimes Pallavi — model what it might look like to engage in a civil dialogue across different points of view.

Each episode begins with a very brief background to the question. So, with “What does it mean to be anti-national?” Srishti offers a one-minute introduction to the farmers’ protests over the proposed bills, and the use of the term within this context. The others then chime in with their views of the role of dissent and the meaning of patriotism, and as they wind their way through the subject, exploring its different angles, we get to listen to them thinking aloud, each weighing her original position against the evidence presented by the other.

While the conversations are entertaining, even informative, one can’t help feel that the opinions range along a rather narrow spectrum. It’s not difficult to be respectful of differences when you’ve already agreed on the larger things. All the participants in these conversations speak with a similar cadence, reflecting a specific socio-economic and cultural demographic, and it seems, have the same politics. Would it actually be possible to have equally civil conversations with those who are truly different from us? What might that conversation sound like? Could we find respectful ways to disagree across such divides? That’s something I’d love to hear.

The Hyderabad-based writer and academic is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.