Finding common ground is indispensable to our progress, especially if we are to move forward as communities and solve the most pressing issues we have to deal with as humans inhabiting an abundant but vulnerable and finite planet. This matter affects us all, in all aspects of our lives and as such, it is a topic worth exploring and understanding in more depth. This article is the first in a series about progress and finding common ground.
Let’s start with what common ground is.
‘Common ground’ is a communication technique. It is the overlap between the positions of parties that may otherwise disagree.
‘Finding common ground’ is a technique people use to facilitate interpersonal relationships of all kinds, including in sales, business, politics and personal relationships.
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It is key to our survival as people, communities and nations. However, finding common ground is not so common these days, and this is a major cause for concern as we tackle big world issues and life’s everyday challenges.
Common ground’s origins go way back in history and come from the concept of the ‘commons’. As stated in Wikipedia: “The commons in many communities were places available to everyone, such as the village pump, or the sidewalk of a road.” Think the city square, our local parks and playgrounds, strip shopping centres, and local community and sporting groups we are familiar with today. “Thus, even for those far from home, the sight of someone familiar only from the commons might be comforting to a homesick or lonely traveller. This effect can be seen in many kinship groups.”
Only last week when I was in Sydney working, I found out where the nearest public swimming pool was, and made my way there after work to have a swim. When I entered the pool deck, I saw the coach of a swim squad and approached her for guidance as to how the pool etiquette worked here. I mentioned I was a squad swimmer from Melbourne who was up in Sydney for a few days. I asked about which lanes I could swim in and where I could get a kickboard and pull buoy. In a matter of 30-60 seconds, she and I had found lots of common ground, and I was able to swim feeling like I was back in Melbourne. She was so immediately helpful, friendly and warm towards a complete stranger. “One measure for interpersonal relationships is warmth. Thus discovery of common ground is commonly cause for comfort and additional happiness among the participants, and is one step on the way to respect or perhaps friendship.”
Sadly, ‘finding common ground’ seems to be in short supply in our world at present, especially on the political scene as the ‘us versus them’ and ‘black and white’ inflexible ideologies and factions fight for supremacy with a ‘winner takes all approach’. Gone are any forms of warmth, trust, respect and comfort for each other. This leaves people feeling more anxious and vulnerable which means they retreat even more into their isolated camps and the common ground is left vacant and barren.
When people are isolated from the common ground, they stop listening to one another, instead, they are intent on getting out their message of righteous indignation at the expense of every other voice. It then becomes about who can shout the other down the loudest and, about who can sling the most stingy rebuke, whether factual or not. When people hide behind social media messages on Twitter and Facebook, and are not required to face each other in person, in the commons, it’s much easier to sling abuse at anyone and get away with it as there are no direct consequences for such actions.
Our world, at present, has ceased to be a contest of ideas focused on finding common ground in order for us to progress, and instead, has become a contest of powerful egos and megalomaniacs, and intent on destroying the other and this is the destructive road to hell.
Common ground is about setting aside our prejudices and differences and instead about finding better ways to live together and build trust and respect for the common good. Listening, questioning, compromise and collaboration are vital for progress. We cannot go backwards, only forwards, and moving forward together, despite our differences, will allow us to see that we have more in common than we do in difference, and that the greater good is worth fighting for.
So what is humanity’s common ground?
Courtesy of Kate Raworth of Doughnut Economics fame, here is our common ground as humans.
Social foundations: water, food, housing energy, health, education, income and work, peace and justice, networks, gender equality, social equity, political voice
Ecology: climate change, ozone layer depletion, air pollution, biodiversity loss, land conversion, freshwater withdrawals, nitrogen and phosphorus overloading, chemical pollution and ocean acidification.
When these common grounds are threatened, our very existence is threatened.
Today, we have the advantage of more highly developed communications techniques, but the basic need for minimising suspicion and maximising trust remains with us, worldwide, at a time when polarisation is increasing.
We cannot afford to let our differences stand in the way of progress for the common good. Instead, let’s drop our ideological weapons, and instead meet in the commons and find common ground that leads to better ways to address our 21st-century challenges and create a viable, sustainable and mutually prosperous world for all.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.