Finding common ground in a divided world

There are current topics that are landmines to even begin to discuss. Many of them we know of, as we might have stepped into the minefield either inadvertently, or deliberately, and experienced the anger, divisiveness, and oftentimes outright rage.

Our families and friendship groups have been divided, even fractured. Differences of opinion, and differences of action and choice can be so extreme that relationships end. 

Here are a few ideas about what we can do to ensure dignity is maintained and bridges are built in our increasingly divided world.

1. Acknowledge that we are dealing with uncertainty.

Uncertainty by nature means that no one knows definitely. No one. Some people who have spent years in certain fields of expertise may have a better idea. However it is still a guess. 

If you claim to know, check your certainty and knowing. Is it really true? Absolutely true? You might be fairly certain, but can you be absolutely certain? If not, acknowledge that. When we acknowledge first to ourselves and then to others that this is our opinion, this is what we feel is true, yet we know it may not be absolutely true, we have created an opening in our own mind first and in the conversation itself, for possibility. 

2. If we cannot do this, then consider the difference between an open mind, an arrested mind and a closed mind.

To be open allows possibility. 

To be arrested allows possibility, even if a smaller one.

To be closed squeezes out all possibility.

If you are the closed mind, then until you open it, there is nothing anyone else can say or do. If you are speaking to someone with a closed mind, withdraw from seeking to challenge their perspective as soon as possible. Save your energy and time. A closed mind is closed. Forget trying to open it.

3. Watch your charged energy. Our energy can either be spiked with anger, frustration, annoyance, disbelief, rage. It can be neutral – no charge at all – boring, modulated, neither here nor there. Or it can be stimulated with possibility, joy, delight, excitement, anticipation.

If you have a charge of anger, indignation or righteousness…then begin by noticing this charge.

Some weeks ago I was in a conversation with a family member and I noticed my charged energy going through the roof. A cocktail of disbelief, anger, righteousness. 

I ended the conversation quickly, and spent the next two weeks attending to my charge. I did not step into another conversation with this family member until I could show up from a neutral position.

I am the only one who can choose to be charged with anger, I am the only one who can choose to reduce my anger and let it go.

No one can make me charged or angry. That is my choice, my power. 

Withdraw as soon as you are able from any conversation where you are charged. The alchemy of anger is such that we are readily addicted to its want to be superior, right, smarter than, a winner over. This is an old story seeded from a place of self-dislike and the need to be better than the other. I know it well. 

Just stop it. Stop speaking from a charged place into a charged situation. The only outcome is amplified charge, which is pointless and far from resolution.

The moment we engage in this ridiculous back and forth, we are simply stirring the divisiveness. We become the problem. 

4. Find common ground

Common ground, that place where most of us agree, is so often neglected in the critical conversations around major problems. It is from common ground that we can connect with another, even when the nuances of the why, the what and the how might be so divergent that we cannot ever see a working-together possibility.

  1. If you are able to remain charge neutral, then have a Conversation for Understanding. Seek to really understand why the other person feels and thinks and acts as they do. This does not mean you agree with them, however when we have the back story, the context of another, their actions and choices might make more sense. 
  2. Find the areas that you both agree on. To do this keep going up to higher orders of context. 

For example;

We can get caught in the weeds of how someone parents their child, or we can begin from a place of agreement that we all want to give our child the very best opportunities. 

If we begin with the common agreement, then how we do this becomes a dialogue. 

Weave the Conversation for Understanding into the dialogue and create the possibility for a conversation where all parties learn from each other.

If the conversation deteriorates towards divisiveness, then return again to the common ground – the place where everyone agrees. Sit there for a while, talking about that before you go back down into the weeds of the how’s, when’s and why’s.

5. Create clear boundaries and do not be embarrassed or ashamed to own them

Over the Christmas New Year holidays I developed a seriously infected tooth. It required dental care. Simultaneously, all around me people were becoming COVID positive. If I became COVID positive I could not have had the emergency dental care I needed. I did several things. I stayed at home, kept away from people, stayed outdoors when I was with people, and only went to places indoors where there was a mask mandate. I also had to request my optometrist wear his mask properly.

A mask is not such a big deal. Sure, it’s a pain in the arse. But it might prevent another person from getting sick. That other person might be immune compromised, might be undergoing cancer treatment, might need emergency dental care. We never know. 

Play your part and contribute to the well-being of society. This is what it means to be a citizen. 

At the same time, be clear on your own boundaries. These can be stated clearly without charge. If people object to your boundaries, walk away, or ask them to leave. Anger is not required in most cases. Remember, no one can make you angry. Only you can do that.

6. Make peace with being wrong

Because we are dealing with uncertainty, on the other side of this time of COVID, we might look back and see the paths that were better or worse as a way to respond. Hindsight will give us that.

Some of us will have taken a stand that will prove to be erroneous. If we have truly acknowledged to ourselves that we are dealing with uncertainty and therefore we do not really know, then embracing our wrong ideas, incorrect interpretations, mistakes and biases, is not a sign of failure, or stupidity, rather it is a result of walking an unknown path. There is no shame in that if we have owned that we did not truly know what would be the better way forward. 

Owning shamelessly our errors makes it easier for others to do the same. Foolishly clinging to righteousness just makes us pigheaded. 

We might look at all opportunities as a way to learn – about ourselves, our ability to respond with level headed maturity, our ability to stay open, to consider, to check our sources, to observe, to make our decisions based on knowledge that comes from well-defined sources.

Our current world has an extreme allergy to being wrong. Naming our mistakes is a sign of maturity. Be mature. Everyone makes mistakes, few own them.

6. Be Kind

Finally, choose to be part of the healing, instead of the division. No matter your opinion about some of the conflicting ideas flying around currently, be kind. 

The world needs more kindness now. Bite your tongue, take a deep breath, step back from entering the argument, smile, and do not comment – unless your comment is steeped in love.

None of this is easy.

Until we practice doing all of these steps we will get more of the same. Division. Trolling. Hate. Cesspools of nastiness. 

Be the change.

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