I had an interesting and unexpected conversation with an old family friend whom I met while taking a hike the other week. We got on the subject of political discourse. Not hard to figure out how that topic came up considering the season. However, we quickly cut to the matter of communication and how difficult it can be to find common ground.
Our culture supports polarity. It supports the view that finding difference is a matter of survival. The business world encourages it using military terms of strategy, outflanking, undermining, etc…. the language of competition. Competition requires distinction, not similarity.
Politics also is about distinction. We require candidates to show how different they are from their opponent. On the positive side, this helps voters to understand what they will get if that candidate is elected. However, once elected, the entire mentality of the politician must change if they are to be successful. They must seek common ground. They must build consensus to move projects and policy through the machine. In a partisan environment, they typically need a politician from the “other side” with common interests to commit their support.
Finding fault, difference, disagreements is easy. It is what our minds are taught to seek. On a local government level, I have witnessed how seeking difference is where some officials find their value. They can be outspoken and strong. They can develop a position from which they defend their arguments. All very admirable. Makes for a strong leader of the tribe.
Common ground, on the other hand, requires an open mind that doesn’t form judgements and opinions. Common ground requires a dialogue and exchange. It requires that areas of similarity be sought and discovered. In all honesty, it requires more work… But the results can be more fulfilling.
What does common ground get us that polarity doesn’t? It can result in a more lasting solution. If we find and then focus on areas of similarity, we can build something. The process of distinction involves taking away. Common ground builds unity, interest, collaboration, congeniality and most importantly it builds energy.
So that next time I’m in a discussion, whether with other town officials or with an aquantenance at the coffee shop, I’ll seek out common ground. It might just help with the effort of creating a lasting peace… even if its just between two people.
Next post idea to look at the question- “does the internet promote common ground?”