Have you seen the Heineken ad that aired in the UK last year, the one that ended with “Open Your World”? If not, it’s worth a quick look here. I’ve been thinking about this ad a lot during the past couple of weeks, as Trump lurches from one outlandish, chest-thumping, ranting rally to the next, as pipe bombs are delivered to leading Democrats all over the country, as anti-Semitic slurs and threats are hurled, along with murdering bullets, at worshipers. Is it possible, in such times, to open your own world, or to open anyone else’s?
Heineken thinks it is, and in the experiment that the ad reports on, they show how. Six people, with radically opposed viewpoints on everything from climate change to transgender issues, are put into three pairs. The people do not know each other and do not know what the experiment is really about: what they do know is that they have met and spoken with the organizers a bit, and they have agreed to meet and to build something together, using instructions given to them by the organizers. And so the pairs get their marching orders and begin to work, assembling tables and chairs—building things. They chat as they work and get to know each other, sharing sometimes very personal information: one man reveals that he has experienced homelessness, for example. Then they are asked to stand and watch a brief video, which features statements they made when first speaking with the organizers. One pair, a trans woman and a conservative older male, are particularly memorable: on the video, she reveals that she is transgender; he opines that transgender is “just not right.” After they watch the video together, the organizers give them another instruction: take two beers out of a cooler (it’s a beer ad, after all) and place them on the structure they had built together. Then decide whether to sit and talk over a beer—or to leave.
Each pair decides to stay and talk, and during that talk the man who had been adamantly opposed to accepting trans people says “I’ve been brought up in a way where everything is black and white―but life isn’t black and white” and they go on from there, the woman saying “Well, I’m just me.” They exchange information and decide to stay in touch. Perhaps the world has opened a bit for this particular man, and for others who participated in this experiment.
I’m hoping to watch this video with a class of students and ask them to write a reflection on it immediately after and then use those reflections for some class discussion on listening, on really attending to other people. I’d like then to come back to the ad after six or seven weeks and watch it again, and reflect again, this time noting ways in which the students’ attitudes and ways of seeing and hearing and understanding the ad may have changed or become more complex.
I’d also like to ask them to consider what difference it may have made that the pairs were asked to work cooperatively on a project together and that they were doing so face to face, in real time. Can they begin to think of their work in peer review or on collaborative writing assignments as an opportunity to make something together, to build a word-house they can all inhabit? At its best, such work can open worlds. And minds. It’s work teachers of writing are always committed to.