Anecdotally, we know what “common ground” means. Finding points of agreement; finding a way to get along.
But what does it mean in politics, and in culture?
Politically, looking for common ground has its roots in the Constitution, striving for the union in a more perfect Union. Back then, we were united against an external foe. Now we’re struggling to find common ground within our union, and we have not yet fully grasped just how important it is to triumph in that struggle.
Our divisions have caused the dominant culture to be one focused on winning, not solving. By that we mean the energy in our political culture today aims at eviscerating those we disagree with. While that kind of victory might feel good at the moment, it imposes a significant cost in the form of social and professional disincentives to work with people holding different points of view. It makes it very difficult to make progress on the country’s crucial issues.
Serious internal divisiveness isn’t unprecedented by any means—Slavery and The Civil War, Vietnam, and civil rights all created great unrest. But for some in the younger generations, this is the first experience with such heated polarized strife.
How to Find Common Ground
In order to have productive and respectful conversations, we have to observe certain foundations of discourse and behavior. At Common Ground Committee, we believe in a set of standards to be applied to all interactions — and we believe in the importance of these interactions. People most interested in our work hold in highest esteem the principles of social decency, and trust; of ensuring that differences of opinions don’t mean differences of respect and degradation of decency.
To this end, we created our 10 Attributes of a Common Grounder, principles to guide the conversations we bring together from across the spectrum of opinions. This is true both in the overall theme and choice of invited guests, as well as the content and tenor of discourse within the events. And, of course, in the candidates, we as citizens choose to support.
To be sure, finding common ground is a tall order. It requires identifying our personal biases—we all have them—and putting them aside for the purposes of a conversation where both parties might learn something, and share something. It involves active listening free of assumptions; a refusal to vilify those with whom you disagree, and a willingness to defuse tension and aggression.
Have a look at our attributes, and consider which relationships in your world might benefit from this approach. Tune into our conversations, and watch our panelists as they strive to uphold our values. Let us know your thoughts on where we succeed in supporting the goal of common ground, and when we fall short. These are tough times, and our union deserves nothing less than our full efforts.