The Fundamentals of Finding Common Ground in a Divided Country

“I think the country, irrespective of ideology, is yearning for political figures to be creative and innovative and determined to find common ground.” – Jeb Bush on CBS This Morning, Nov 1 2012

I am not afraid to say it.  I agree with Jeb Bush.  We are all DESPERATE to come closer together in this country.  But there is something that I have to clarify, Mr. Bush.  There are no “creative and innovative” ways to unite people. There are and there have always been the same old ways, which, as a conservative, fundamentalist-type person, you should appreciate.  Bringing people closer together…to work together …for the common good of each other…is not about innovation.  It’s about basic human stuff that our “political figures” have completely thrown out the window.

In my work, I bring folks together to find common ground so I have thought a lot about this.  In my work, I start every session with 4 requests:

  1. Be Here – We have to be willing to show up and share space together.  World-changing events like Hurricane Sandy force us to do this.  Our power is turned off and we are literally thrown from our homes and out into the streets.  We have no choice but to be present with each other.  But, God forbid, we wait for super storms to bring us together.  We should find the things that we can do every, regular, normal day, to break out of our lives for a moment and be willing to just BE together.
  2. Say Yes – Once we are willing to be present, we must also be willing to open our minds and hearts to the present situation.  All good performers of improvisation know that the first rule to any good scene is to Say Yes.  Saying Yes keeps the scene moving forward.  Saying No stops the play.
    Republicans seem to me to be the leaders of the “No Way” paradigm of looking at the world.  “No, global warming does not exist.”  “There is no way it is natural for 2 people of the same sex to actually love each other.” “No, rape and unwanted pregnancy aren’t actually related to each other.”  In this same interview this morning, Charlie Rose challenged Mr. Bush when he said that he believes Romney will be our next President.Charlie Rose: “Why do you believe that when all the polls, including the most recent polls, show President Obama leading by 5 in Ohio, about even in Florida…?”Jeb Bush: “…I looked at the structure of that poll and I believe it’s just not accurate.  That would be my guess.”Saying Yes to each other is not about agreeing with each other all the time.  Saying Yes is being willing to accept what is ACTUALLY happening before making a choice about how to move forward.
  3. Assume the Best – We have to start believing in the best intentions of each other.  Although I choose to live in a city and you choose to live in the suburbs OR I choose to be a vegan and you choose to eat meat OR I choose to work for myself and you choose to work for a big corporation, I, like you, must assume that you, like me, are capable of deep love and that we are both doing the best we can for ourselves and our families.  In attempting to cross world views and connect with each other, we will inevitably make mistakes.  We might hurt each other’s feelings.  But, if we assume the best intentions of each other, we can agree to move forward and try again.
  4. Seek Opportunity in the Discomfort– Growth and change is hard work.  Obama has been telling us this since his 2008 campaign.  It is not easy.  There is always pain involved in change.  Ask any normal 13 year old.  I feel like Republicans define “finding common ground” as “getting everybody to do what we say because we are the ones who are right.”  Sure, that would be easy.  But that is not growth.  That is not creativity.  That is not innovation.  And it is certainly not reality.  Finding “common ground” means:
    1. being really uncomfortable as I sit and listen to ideas that I might not agree with
    2. looking inside myself to determine why I believe what I believe
    3. wrestling with my beliefs to see if they still serve me or if they are getting in the way
    4. and doing the hard work of bringing our ideas together to see if there is a whole other alternative that neither of us have thought of before

You may have your own list of 4 ways to help people come together. I am certainly not the end-all-be-all authority on meaningful human connection.  But, I offer my list for the purpose of public discourse – which, by the way, is the best way to make all of this happen.  Let’s BE together.  TALK and LISTEN to each other.  Follow my 4 above requests.  It’s not creative and innovative.  It’s just what needs to happen.

And, Mr. Bush, I would be more than happy to engage in real discussion with you about whether or not Mr. Romney is the leader who will help make this happen.  So far, from what I have seen, I am not convinced.

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