Finding Common Ground

What allows people to let go of revenge and drop their contempt for others long enough to actually listen to the other? How do you get people out of their rut?

My observation is that this happens when people start to see others as individuals, rather than part of some other group. Rather than reacting to a caricature, people are able to see a complex human being who isn’t so different from them. This allows people to find common ground.  A few examples of this come to mind.

At the start of the COVID virus pandemic there was an encouraging story ‘Everybody’s Getting Along Here’: How ‘Hotel Corona’ United Israelis And Palestinians.  People who would normally separate themselves from each other found themselves confined together. At the very  beginning, people separated from each other along traditional dividing lines. Then a few people decided to cross the normal dividing lines, and soon, nearly everyone was coming together. What touched me the most was that the hotel management had installed a temporary wall so the ultra Orthodox Jews could celebrate Passover according to their traditions. When the Seder started the Orthodox Jews realized it felt wrong to have a wall between them and everyone else. They recruit some help to remove the wall and joined with the rest of the people in the hotel, which included several Palastinian who were Muslim.

When walking the Camino we saw how the pilgrims on the journey found connection with each other in their shared experience. National rivalries, differences in religion or social economic differences were forgotten. Everyone tried to care for their fellow pilgrims. It felt like we were a family.

There was a wonderful Danish commercial:  All That We Share .  They initially had people group themselves the the typical social-economic / ethnic buckets. They then had people flow into new groups. At first it was fun or easy dividers:

  • Who was a class clown
  • Who was a step-parent
  • Who loves to dance
  • Who has seen an UFO

Then tougher things like

  • Who was bullied
  • Who was a bully
  • Who feels lonely

By the end, people’s simple identity had been shredded and their view was expanded. People discovered they were more like others than then realized. They felt more of a connection to people than they had 30 minutes earlier when most of the people were “the other”.

Finally I am reminded of a study looking at the “righteous gentiles”. These are people who put their lives at risk to hide and protect Jews from the Nazis.  Christians were no more (or less) likely to be a righteous gentle, nor were “liberal” social advocates. The best predictor was a personal relationship with the Jewish person that was protected.

What’s the solution?

It likely won’t be some grand, national action. It won’t be some moralist / religious movement. It will be individuals interacting on a personal basis with people who they would normally distance themselves from (the other).

One approach which I think will help are groups like Braver Angels and Oak Guild which are trying to get a constructive dialog going. Another example is the faculty at Dartmouth University response to the attack by Hamas and Israel’s response. Unlike several of the Ivy schools, the administration and facility were able to promote meaningful dialog which was able to simultaneously offer a full throated condemn of the Hamas attack AND to discuss what has led to such a polarized moment. A simple tool that might be helpful is which will show a left, right and depolarized result.

A second is to strive for a both-and rather than either-or. Take supporting kids in the inner-city. Both the left and the right are concerned for them. The left narrative is that systematic discrimination, inadequate resources, etc is at fault. The right will typically cite the breakdown of the family. Both sides wants the kids to thrive. So why not attack the issue from both sides. Get more resources into the schools, do things that support the kids, provide opportunities, AND find ways to strengthen family, encourage character development, etc. These efforts don’t have to be in conflict.

At the end of the day, it’s finding values that everyone can support, and for people to leave their old grudges behind, looking for solutions that will work. That is my prayer.

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Romans 12:14-19 (MSG)

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