Seeking Common Ground

The following is a guest post by Julie Rohr.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the theme of common ground. I'm sure many of us have been. It's a frightening, divisive time politically and culturally, and the volume of this noise seems to have increased greatly in the past couple of months. 

I believe and hold onto the hope that if two parties that are diametrically opposed had the opportunity to sit down with one another one on one, slogans and banners and prejudices aside, we would see some sort of common ground we have as humans.

This is to say that at our core, most of us share the emotions of fear, hope, desire, anger, joy, despair - those are all HUMAN feelings. They do not belong to the left or the right; to people with any certain shade of skin. They are common ground. 

This is not to say that we should not speak up against injustice. We should and must and loudly. Those of you who know me well know that social justice causes are very near to my heart and I'm the first to pick up a sign and join a rally for causes near to my heart. I often wonder this, though; when the yelling dies down, what's the common ground? Between a protester on one side and a protester on the other? From where I sit, it looks a lot like fear or anger. Fear of an uncertain or unsafe future for their families, whatever that looks like. Fear of being on the "outside," of being judged, of being discriminated against. Of losing religious rights. Of losing the right to BE. You are TAKING something from me. ((Recognize that the probability is they have as much anger and fear of you as you have of them, whether their reasoning makes sense or not.))

In the last three or four months, I have shared deep discussions with a very wide variety of people. I have debated with people I love who do not share my (very opinionated) political views. I have wrung my hands along with people who are angry and fearful of the current political climate. I have shared lengthy conversation with all types of family groups- single, divorced, happily married 25 years, single parents, no kids, six kids, foster parents, families with two Dads or two Moms. Environmental crusaders and those who deny climate change exists. I regularly discuss the matters of life with people who are agnostic, atheist, Christian-of-some-sort-or-another. I have recently shared meals, conversations and sacred moments with a Muslim Syrian family whom I now count among my dearest friends. Before I went into the hospital, this couple prayed over me for health and strength and it was a beautiful shared moment. I have exchanged conversation with several women who were in their last days of life, sat at a hospital bedside and squeezed a hand tightly. This changes your perspective dramatically. 

What I'm trying to get at here is this - among all the people groups I just listed and regularly interact with in my life - we are never going to agree on EVERYTHING. But surely, surely, we can agree on SOMETHING. One thing, even.

In the moments I am angry, frightened, horrified at something I'm reading in the news or debating with someone across the table or computer screen from me - I am trying my very hardest to stop and think of one thing we have in common, and turn the focus to that. You love your children? I love mine too. We have that in common. You eat grapefruits? I love grapefruits! You enjoy watching birds in your back yard? Yes! Me too.

This might sound ridiculous, reaching for minor commonalities like this - but if WE ALL DO IT, on a micro level, our hearts might change just a little bit towards one another. Instead of away from each other. And I'm not saying to stop calling people on their faults, on greed, on racism, on discrimination. I'm not saying that at all. Make your views known, call out these behaviours. There are people who are perpetuating great wrongs on this earth and this cannot go unchallenged, obviously. But on a daily basis, with the people around us - if we made the decision to stop vilifying people who don't agree with us and start to reach for commonalities, start to see them as humans acting out of some base human emotion - this might help us cope and maybe even start a conversation that you didn't expect.

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