Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen were featured on News 12 Connecticut speaking about our country’s crisis of political polarization and how we can fix it.
Common Ground Committee co-founders Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen were featured on News 12 Connecticut speaking about our country’s crisis of political polarization and how we can fix it.
Here at the Common Ground Committee we are always looking for ways to bring positive discourse, and as our mission states, we look to” pursue initiatives which will reveal common ground for finding truth, clarity, understanding, and progress on issues of importance in a civil manner that does not require compromise of fundamental principles.” Among those initiatives are encouraging people to vote and to read. Reading allows us to understand not just ourselves but others and voting is a way to take the knowledge gained to further our Democracy.
The last few weeks have been difficult ones for our country as we have sustained losses of icons admired by many. As such, we thought that this week’s book focus would be something a little lighter in nature but still focusing on the initiatives outlined above. A while back we mentioned The Great American Read sponsored by PBS and as it winds down, we are suggesting that you not only check out the list but VOTE!
The idea behind the Great American Read was not to find the greatest novel ever written, but rather a way to find out “what Americans actually care about.” The list was compiled through a “demographically diverse national survey of 7,200 Americans asked to name their favorite novels, conducted by YouGov.” PBS has acknowledged that the list is both eclectic and diverse and offers some surprises of what did and did not make the list. Bill Gardner, vice president of programming and development at PBS said that “If the series prompts a “positive” conversation about books, PBS will have fulfilled its mission. Let’s talk about what’s good about America, what brings us together — especially now.”
So we would urge you to take the time to review the list and the various interviews that PBS has done with some of the authors and to GO AND VOTE! Voting ends soon.
The multi-platform series about the books begins on September 11th. There will be “five one-hour theme episodes that examine concepts common to groups of books on the list”, and a finale on October 23rd when the winner will be announced. You can also purchase the book, The Great American Read: The Book of Books which offers information about each of the books on the list and the social relevance each book and author holds for readers.
While you are at it, why not look into some of the book groups at your local library. These groups offer a great way to engage in the type of conversations that result in finding common ground with your neighbors. Many libraries also sponsor the One Book One Community or Big Read series where people read the same book and then engage in events to discuss.
Hello Middleshelfers, Happy weekend.
August is International Peace Month and should not be confused with International Peace Day which is held every year in September, each having a different impetus for their creation. International Peace Month was formed in 1926 as a way to remember the causes and outcomes of World War I We regularly note that the road to common ground can and must benefit from looking back to where we have been so as to learn how we wound up where we are now and how best to take lessons from our history.
Given that August is International Peace Month this week’s book recommendations look back at World War I. The declaration as Peace Month was made at the Fifth International Democratic Peace Conference attended by over 4,000 delegates. Held at Rheims, site of some of the greatest losses of the War, a quarter of the delegates were of German descent, and those present votes to encamp at battlefields across France to concentrate on how to achieve international peace.
But, as Time Magazine which covered the Conference, later wrote:
“International Peace Month was born of a series of tragic miscalculations, the war killed millions and ravaged Europe on a scale once considered unthinkable. The war not only set the stage for a century of violence and conflict but forever altered the human mindset, ushering in an age of cynicism, fatalism and lowered expectations for the future. As memory of the war recedes, it’s increasingly important that we educate new generations about the horrors of that conflict and learn whatever lessons we can, so we may not repeat the mistakes that led to the Great War”
To that end, Time created a reading list about World War I to help those who served and later generations come to terms with the War and the aftermath as peace has remained elusive. Below is their list and comments:
Another worthwhile and more expansive list can be found at BookBrowse that explained the necessity of reading about the War:
“In many ways, we are still engaged in this war and the maps are still flowing. Though there was a period of ‘entre deux guerres’ in the 1920s and early 1930s–a false peace at best–the world has for the most part been on a war-time footing and economy for the past hundred years. It’s important to remember that time, to understand the people who lived through it, and to enter into the dynamics, the reverberations of which are still felt in our own time.”
It is also worth noting that 2018 is the Centennial of the end of World War I, and while there will be many international commemorations of what was once called the “Great War” or “war to end all wars”, we remain a world that still is not at peace. Peace, like common ground, requires compassion, negotiations, and thoughtful discourse. Take some time to read, reflect and remember.
Hello Middleshelfers, and welcome to a special book recommendation this weekend.
Hello Middleshelfers, Happy International Peace Month and the last month of summer!
Throughout this summer, we have been bringing you recommendations and ideas about books to read that help to promote thinking about ways to reach common ground. One of the central points has been that in order to navigate the somewhat difficult road to common ground, we need to try to understand the so-called “other”. If we can find reasons through reading why people think or believe a certain way about an issue, perhaps the divide can be if not totally bridged then at least subject to reasonable discussion. As our mission states, bring light not heat to public discourse.
It turns out that we are not alone in believing that reading can help guide us to better understanding. Given that August is International Peace Month; we have been searching for books that have an international scope and in doing so we came upon a recent article in The Guardian from the United Kingdom which discusses the international trend that is occurring in the rise in reading non-fiction books. Titled “How the brainy book became a publishing phenomenon,” by Alex Preston, the article makes the point that the current times we live in are chaotic and people are seeking answers the old fashioned way-by reading books. One publisher said he:
“sees the return to serious works of nonfiction as a response to the spirit of the age. We’re living in a world that suddenly seems less certain than it did even two years ago, and the natural reaction is for people to try and find out as much about it as possible. People have a hunger both for information and facts and for a nuanced exploration of issues, of a sort that books are in a prime position to provide.”
One of the reasons we have been recommending mostly non-fiction this summer is because quality non-fiction that has been vetted and edited properly will most often include primary, secondary and even tertiary sources to support an author’s thesis. The inclusion of footnotes and liner notes and end notes allows the reader to do their own search beyond what the author writes. Consider reading a book that posits an idea that you do not agree with or sounds different than what you might have heard on the news vehicle of your choice, you have the luxury to go to these additional sources.
“At a time when politics is more furious and fragmented than ever when technology is colonizing our everyday existence when medicine is reshaping our lives, we still look to books to make sense of things, to feel ourselves part of a great communal effort to understand our age. These are serious times and they demand serious, intelligent and challenging books.”
Hello Middleshelfers, happy last week of July!
Our focus during the month of July has been on recommending books on the origins of our nation’s government and some of the people who influenced our most significant documents that we still reference for guidance and law. By looking back at the thoughts and ideas that our Founders espoused, theoretically, we should have some type of starting point to debate and find common ground on what our nation stands for today.
We often look back on the Founders with a degree of nostalgia as if they were this collective group who, unlike today, found unanimity of thought to achieve the Declaration of Independence and ultimately the U.S. Constitution. After all, they were not burdened by the internet and 24 hour a day news cycle or the extreme partisanship we face today that hinders civil discourse. Yet the truth is they were every bit as divided, subject to rancor, backroom deals, and political motivation that ended friendships (Jefferson and Adam) and alliances, and even lives (Burr and Hamilton). But what is striking is that with it all, they did achieve the ultimate compromise of ratification of the Constitution. They reached common ground and got something done.
How did they achieve compromise and are there lessons from their process that we can take away today? One way was through writing and reading. Once the constitution had been drafted it was left to many of the Founders to go back to their states and persuade voters to ratify. There we no TV pundits or televised debates; not blogs or posts or ads as we think of the methods of persuasion today. Rather, there were essays written explaining and exploring ideas.
The Founders took the time to dissect each other’s views and philosophies. No sound bites but rather thoughtful responses laying out their arguments for public consumption through newspapers and pamphlets. It is that deliberate process that we might do well to adopt. Our leaders should be required to take the time to explain their positions and what it would take for there to move towards common ground.
To that end, we are recommending a fresh look at both The Federalist Papers and the lesser known Anti-Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers were are series of essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay that laid out not just a variety of reasons why the Constitution should be ratified but a much bigger philosophical idea:
“It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.”
The fact is that The Federalist Papers were in actuality not as influential in getting the Constitution ratified as many have been led to believe. While the work is often cited in court cases and judicial arguments as a way to search for Founder intention, it was not widely circulated beyond the State of New York where the writers were based and in fact, New York was not among the first states to ratify. Regardless of its place in persuasion, it is an example of compromise. Hamilton was not in favor of including a Bill of rights in the Constitution and one of his essays explores that concept. Yet despite his ardent argument in Paper 84, he and Madison compromised.
The Anti-Federalist Papers are somewhat less well known. They too were a series of essays but from a more widely scattered and less centralized group. These essays reflect the core belief that without a Bill of Rights for individuals, there should be no ratification. They were successful in getting James Madison to add the enumerated Bill of Rights to the Constitution. This group included well-known heroes of the American Revolution such as Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams, though the actual writers are perhaps less well-known and it was not until the mid-20th Century that The Complete Anti-Federalist was compiled.
As we wrap up our look at the Founders, we point to these essays as an example of how compromise can be achieved through thoughtful discourse. Next month we will be looking to step away from American history, and given that it is International Peace Month, we will be looking at common ground on a more international historic basis.
Hello Middleshelfers, sorry for the change in scheduled posting
As we have been pointing out, the book selections for July were intended to look back at our nation’s founding in an effort to help us better understand our history. Understanding where we came from in terms of our country’s past struggles is one element that might help us achieve common ground. Knowing the trials and tribulations of where we have been could help guide us through to where we want to be.
In searching for books to highlight, we found many that were written about the well-known founders like Washington and Jefferson and last week we recommended reading about the often forgotten founder John Jay. It would have been easy to recommend something about Alexander Hamilton as the hot pick, and choosing David McCullough’s 1776 or epic biography of John Adams would have been easy selections (which we do recommend people read).
However, after much thought, we decided that some of the necessary lessons on how to achieve common ground could be found in a book about a later president who while not present at the creation, had a profound impact on our nation that was every bit as crucial as the Founders. This week’s book dramatically explores how a president not only overcame his rivals but managed to bring them together to help him forge a nation. His determination to find common ground on issues in a way that his rivals could not only live with but come to agree with him on is a story worth understanding.
Doris Kearns Goodwin has been hailed as one of the most acclaimed historians writing about the presidency during the last 50 years. Though her career has not been without some controversy over primary sources, she has spent her career focusing on those presidents that she felt had made seismic shifts in the country’s history.
Her best-known work is Team of Rivals: The Political Genus of Abraham Lincoln. What makes this book a model for common ground is the story she tells of how President Lincoln managed to bring the three men who had run against him in 1860 into his cabinet ( Attorney General Edward Bates, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase and Secretary of State William H. Seward) and obtained not just their loyalty but a reconciliation of their differences as he moved toward abolition.
Lincoln’s position on why he recruited his rivals was:
“We need the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.”
While Seward not only became an ally but a trusted friend, Chase sought to undermine Lincoln. Nevertheless Lincoln kept him in the cabinet because he respected his knowledge of finance. His willingness to overlook Chase’s animosity even resulted in him appointing Chase as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court since he felt that he was the one best able to carry forth the newly adopted Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery.
While the book focuses primarily on the three political rivals Lincoln beat in 1860, there are also other rivals that are featured, especially Democrat Edwin Stanton. Stanton was a brilliant attorney who had regarded Lincoln as a “country bumpkin.” However, when Lincoln decided to change his Secretary of War, he tapped Stanton for the job despite Stanton’s low opinion of him. Like Seward, Stanton became a Lincoln loyalist. It was Stanton who said upon Lincoln’s assassination, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
So what was Lincoln’s secret to bringing common ground to a disparate group of one time rivals? According to one review:
“Part of the answer lay in Lincoln’s steadfastness of purpose, which inspired subordinates to overcome their petty rivalries. Part of it lay in his superb sense of timing and his sensitivity to the pulse of public opinion as he moved to bring along a divided people to the support of “a new birth of freedom.” And part of it lay in Lincoln’s ability to rise above personal slights, his talent for getting along with men of clashing ideologies and personalities who could not get along with each other.”
Kearns’ book helps us to understand that among the many talents that Lincoln possessed was the unique ability not just to make friends of enemies but to overlook the animus in order to mine the talents of those who had opposed him throughout his presidency.
The path to common ground can sometimes be guided by looking back to where we have been in order to find the path to where we can be going. If you have been following our book recommendations during the month of July, you know that we have been focusing on aspects of the beginnings of our nation, how we celebrate and the people who were influential to America’s beginnings.
Most of us probably can name at least a few of the “Founding Fathers,” such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. However, one of the Founders who often gets lost and might well be the most relevant to issues taking place today is John Jay who was the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, most scholars agree that Jay has been sorely overlooked and considering that John Adams said of Jay, “he was “of more importance than any of the rest of us,” historians now seem to be attempting to rectify the neglect.
There is much about Jay that is worth highlighting such as his writings in The Federalist Papers, his tenure as Governor of New York where he sought penal reform, fought for the abolition of slavery, and “in 1799 succeeded in passing a gradual emancipation act, whereby children of slaves became free on their 25th birthday for girls and 28th for boys, thus bringing about the emancipation of all slaves in New York.” Interestingly, he is also known as the Father of Counterintelligence.
However, it was his appointment by George Washington as the first Chief Justice that is particularly germane to our current national scene. Washington had offered Jay any spot in his cabinet that Jay wanted, but he chose the Supreme Court instead. While he only presided over four cases during his tenure, those cases included Chisolm vs. Georgia. Jay ruled in favor of the right of people to sue the states. The decision, in that case, was later overturned by the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution, and subsequently modified to some extent to allow for appeals in the federal courts. However, Jay’s philosophy was on display in the original ruling when he wrote:
“[T]he people are the sovereign of this country, and consequently … fellow citizens and joint sovereigns cannot be degraded by appearing with each other in their own courts to have their controversies determined. The people have reason to prize and rejoice in such valuable privileges, and they ought not to forget that nothing but the free course of constitutional law and government can ensure the continuance and enjoyment of them.”
At a time when we continue to discuss some of the same issues and try to reach common ground over what roles do “the people” play versus the government, John Jay seems to be a worthy person to read about. While there is actually a dearth of books about him compared to the other Founders, two of the most recent is John Jay: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History and John Jay: Founding Father by Walter Stahr. Both books seek to explore the crucial roles and ideas of Jay and bring him to the forefront of the Founders. So if you want to learn a little bit more about the Supreme Court through the eyes of its first Chief Justice at a time when we are gearing up to debate the role of the Court, Jay’s biographies are an excellent place to start.
It’s Thursday again CGC MiddleShelfers and we hope everyone had a great 4th of July!
In last week’s book entry, we took a look back at how previous generations celebrated the Fourth of July. We thought that we would stay with the patriotic theme albeit through a historical lens for the month. Much is made of and written about the Founding Fathers and we will spotlight them next week. However, we decided because of the many issues currently being hotly debated in our nation impact women in particular. It seems germane that as the nation examines and continues to discuss the origins of the guiding documents and institutions as they relate to the rights of women, we look back at the roles and extraordinary contributions that women played in creating our country.
Additionally, it is particularly relevant since:
“according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, a total of 455 women have filed as candidates for Congress, easily topping the old record of 298 in 2012. Fifty-one women have entered Senate races, compared to 40 who set the previous standard in 2016. Gubernatorial candidates are even more striking: 60 this year, far exceeding the 34 women who ran in 1994. This influx of women in public roles is matched by a rising tide of females behind the scenes who are running campaigns themselves, not just serving male bosses”
Cokie Roberts, an award-winning journalist, and author has written two books about women who influenced the shaping of our country. In Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, Roberts introduces the reader not just to the more prominent women most have heard of such as Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, and Mollie Pitcher, but she includes the stories of some lesser-known women who had a substantial and transformative impact of the men who framed our nation’s principles.
Her companion volume, Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation, continues to highlight these and other women such as Rebecca Gratz, Louise Livingston and Sacagawea, using private journals, correspondence and some previously unpublished sources to explore their accomplishments.
If you also happen to have an elementary school-aged child you read to or buy books for, Independent Dames: What You Never Knew about the Women and Girls of the American Revolution by Laurie Halse Anderson, is worth checking out as well.
As is my family’s custom, on the morning of July 4 we attended a reading of the Declaration of Independence and the original Bill of Rights to a packed house at the iconic Unitarian Church on Nantucket. The reading was preceded by audience participation in the singing of patriotic American songs including “America The Beautiful”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, “It’s a Grand Old Flag,”, and others. It was a rousing event, one that amid the celebration reminded me of how hard it was to get where we are today as a country.
But for the first time, I can remember, it wasn’t all rah-rah. Two passages from the Declaration generated specific applause from many in the audience who saw them in the light of our current political situation:
“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
“He (the King) has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the reasons for it, there was great significance in that applause. The fact that Americans can freely and openly express their grievances with not just our government but the person leading it and not fear repercussion is a freedom that enables our country to continue to not just survive but thrive.
I happened to sit next to a young woman from Chile who is doing a summer internship involving historic preservation here on the island. We had a great conversation. It was exciting for me to see her thoroughly engaged and enjoying the experience of witnessing how Americans feel about their country, even when they express their displeasure.
As inspired as I was by the festivities I, too, felt emotions this year I had not previously experienced at these Declaration readings. Recalling my visit to Charlottesville earlier this year I found myself wondering how the Black Americans in the Nantucket audience were feeling during the reading. They were there and fully participating in the celebration. But do they feel differently about the country than I do? What was in their thoughts when they heard these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”?
America has its challenges, but July 4th reminds me that living Americans have more fundamental things in common than they have differences. My hope is that we can increasingly work outward from those common elements and shared culture. If we can each harness the spirit and deep resolve behind the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in our civic engagement we can find common ground, make progress on the issues that divide us and make this already great nation even better.