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Finding common ground isn’t about ‘being nice’ or losing values. It’s about understanding.

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen co-founders of Common Ground Committee wrote a letter is in response to the new poll numbers from the Hidden Common Ground initiative.

They write that common ground can be found between Democrats and Republicans but, in order for that to happen, we have to dispel the myth that finding common ground is somehow compromising your values.

The letter also includes mention of the 10 common grounder initiatives and includes a link


As co-founders of an organization focused on the state of our political discourse, we are not surprised by the results of the newly-released USA TODAY/Public Agenda/Ipsos poll published in “America is dangerously divided. USA TODAY and partners launch ‘Hidden Common Ground’ to find solutions.” Common ground can certainly be found between Republicans and Democrats — but first, we need to dispel a common myth.

One of the most consistent critiques we hear is that finding common ground means “being nice” at the expense of one’s values. The real point of common ground is not to force-feed agreement on a particular issue — it’s about a conversation that leads to understanding each other.

Before Thanksgiving, we released the 10 attributes of what we call common grounders. One of those attributes is to listen and learn from personal experiences. This is the essence of the common ground movement. When we brought Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Susan Rice on stage for an event recently, the audience was inspired by just how much they found agreement despite their different backgrounds.

–This article was published in USA Today on December 13, 2019.

Avoiding the snake in the grass: Let’s not allow impeachment to divide us

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen co-founders of Common Ground Committee seek to promote productive public discourse on the upcoming impeachment talks and hearings in this op-ed


Say you’re at a race track, watching a horse come around the bend when, all of a sudden, the rider is thrown off. You may be tempted to jump to any number of conclusions about what happened — the rider was careless, the horse was not sufficiently trained. But if you look closer, you’ll see the real problem: There was a snake in the grass.

Whether one supports or opposes the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, we should all agree that we need to avoid that snake in the grass — in this case, the demonization of the other side. Former UN Ambassador Susan Rice said it best in an appearance on MSNBC last week: The biggest threat to our national security is domestic political divisions.

Unfortunately, what we have seen thus far are conversations packed with vitriol. Recently, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) stated that the president needs to be “imprisoned and placed in solitary confinement.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, said “What we are in the middle of now, folks, is a Cold Civil War,” in describing how he sees Democrats’ approach to the president. This kind of rhetoric doesn’t just throw gas on the fire. It throws a tanker truck on it.

While it may be tempting to become absorbed by the disdain and cynicism that fuels our politics and the growing arguments over impeachment, Susan Rice’s comments about the impact of our political divides reinforce what we have believed for years: We must stop demonizing those with whom we disagree and shift our default model for public discourse from immediately degrading the other side to engaging with them respectfully to better understand their positions and why they hold them.

That means opening our thinking to accept facts that might not fit our narratives. It means disciplining ourselves not to let our favorite pundits reinforce our views without questioning if they are supported by facts. By doing those things, we can engage in more productive, less tense conversations with others about the serious issue of impeachment — an important consideration as the holiday season approaches.

The openness to facts and resistance to demonization are attributes of what we call “common grounders.” We describe common grounders as those seeking points of agreement on social and political issues through listening and productive conversation. Rather than shutting down friends or family members with differing opinions, common grounders listen to others in order to understand them. The goal is not necessarily to come to an agreement but to have a discussion based on facts, not insults. There will be much less risk of damaging relationships and you will be setting an example for others about what good looks like when it comes to political conversations.

While much of the discussion in D.C. has been toxic, there have been some politicians willing to favor facts over rhetoric. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) caused an uproar when he appeared to support an impeachment inquiry. While he later clarified those remarks, he still insisted we “have to respect the process.” Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) promised her constituents that she would “look at the facts as they come and… do what my conscience calls me to do.”

Reps Amodei and Slotkin aren’t the only examples of politicians avoiding the trap of demonization. Recently, former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Condoleezza Rice shared a stage during a forum hosted in part by Common Ground Committee, the nonprofit we founded dedicated to bringing light, not heat, to public discourse. The leaders passionately but respectfully discussed high-stakes issues from North Korea to climate change and even found points of consensus.

All of these examples serve as models for our own public discourse as we continue to move deeper into the impeachment process.

We also implore media professionals to make a more concerted effort to not amplify party feuds and follies just for views and clicks. According to a late-2018 Gallup poll, only 45 percent of Americans trust that mass media reports the news “fully, accurately and fairly.” Journalists are supposed to be a check on government power, but fanning the flames of hostility for ratings and subscriptions makes it harder for people to thoughtfully assess the situation.

The snake in the grass that is demonization will always be present, but it’s within our power to avoid it.

As the impeachment inquiry continues, let us not become victims of its bite. Instead, refuse to demonize those with differing opinions. I sincerely seek to remain open to accepting facts as they become available and to understand our associates, friends, and family who disagree with us on the impeachment question.

This way we can heal the anger and polarization that pits us against each other and, as Susan Rice has warned, opens us up to trouble at the hands of America’s adversaries.

–This article was published in The Hill on October 22, 2019.

Trump administration is in a unique position to make real change on gun control policy

This month co-founders, Bruce Bond and  Erik Olsen, shared their thoughts in this poignant piece about gun control.

Bruce and Erik identified that the Trump administration is in a unique position to implement measures to reduce the prevalence of mass shootings and that preventing this type of tragedy is somewhere the nation can find common ground.

As we continue to struggle with the events in El Paso and Dayton, we all must face the fact that the problem of mass shootings in America has been in the headlines for over 30 years, through numerous administrations, with virtually no progress made. In fact, the situation has never been worse.

That shouldn’t be. Virtually all Americans, regardless of demographic characteristics, political views, positions on gun ownership and regulation, political party or political office want to see this escalating violence come to an end.

In our work to “bring light not heat to public discourse” and to demonstrate that people can come together in passionate but respectful debate to find common ground on issues that matter, we see clearly that the lack of progress on this issue is caused by its complexity and the fact that the divisive issue of guns is at the heart of the debate.

The Trump administration is in a unique position to make tangible and significant progress on this problem and move us down the path to eliminating mass shootings. We believe this because:

  • Law-abiding gun owners often do not trust that their government will allow them to keep their weapons — but the support of the Trump administration among gun owners is strong. Gun owners recognize this administration as someone looking out for their interests.
  • The Trump administration demonstrated work to reduce mass shootings when President Trump issued an executive order in December 2018 effectively banning bump stocks.

We believe this administration is in much the same position as President Richard Nixon, a staunch anti-communist, was when presented with the opportunity to open relations with Communist China. That apparent conflict was key to his success, ultimately cooling tensions between the two countries and getting American businesses to access the China market. As the Nixon administration did, we urge our current leaders to seize the opportunity.

But the 30 years of no progress mandate that a new approach is needed. Specifically:

  • The conversation cannot be a referendum on guns and the 2nd Amendment because gun owners and their representatives will not engage.
  • It must acknowledge the complexity of the problem. Researchers and law enforcement are working to determine why individuals become shooters, but there is as yet no consensus. And there are different types of mass shootings. Gang-related killings are not the same as what happened in El Paso and Dayton.
  • It needs to include these four basic principles:
  1. Hear from all sides of the issue, including mass shooting victims and those dedicated to saving lives through strict gun control as well as gun owners who are concerned that their Constitutional right to ownership will be effectively eliminated. Seek to understand and account for the different perspectives, particularly of these two groups.
  2. When forming solutions, set ideology aside in favor of facts presented by credible experts.
  3. Outside of assailants, do not assign blame. Instead, seek to identify what individuals, organizations, companies, etc. can do to address the parts of the problem they contribute to. (Note to the media: We believe that assigning blame without reporting on potential solutions or points of progress serves to further divide the nation, making it more difficult to achieve the goal, which is to save innocent lives).
  4. Focus on what is possible and what can be done now. Find the 10-20 percent of the issue the different sides can agree on and take action accordingly. Build on that momentum moving forward.

There are probably a few mechanisms that could work, and we hope our elected officials choose one and get it going. When the findings and recommendations are delivered, we encourage the Trump administration to be the leading and loudest voice convincing citizens and elected officials to embrace the results and support them in speech and action.

We believe this administration has a substantially better opportunity than previous presidents. We implore them to seize it and set us on the path to the elimination of this horrific problem. They will be saving the lives of those who, through no fault of their own, may otherwise be included on the list of mass shooting victims.

— This article was published in The Hill on August 21, 2019