Finding Common Ground

When Jesse and Luke sat down at the conference table in the university president’s conference room, it was the first time they had ever been on the same side of a table. Jesse was the president of the state AFL-CIO and Luke was a highly successful entrepreneur in the state’s mining and timber industry. They had just been appointed to the university’s Board of Trustees. While neither of them had ever attended college, their children had greatly benefitted from the educations they received in the state and that’s why the president had asked them to join the Trustees.

The state legislature was thinking of making dramatic cuts in the state’s scholarship which provided tuition assistance for high achieving students. Jesse was strongly opposed to the cuts because many of his members’ children needed the scholarship to attend college. Likewise, Luke was upset with the Legislature’s proposal. He saw the scholarship as being vital to his area of the state.

Together, Jesse and Luke worked to defeat the proposal. In the process they became friends. While they shared a common belief in the value of a college education, they found that they had similar views on many other issues as well. Both shared common-sense views about what it would take to advance the state.

The president of the university called upon Jesse and Luke to help him on other issues as well. When Jesse and Luke joined together on a controversial topic, they were a powerful force.

There were issues where Jesse and Luke could not come together. But even when they were on opposite sides of an issue, they never made it personal. In fact, the tone of the discussion was changed as others looked to Jesse and Luke as models of civility.

Finding common ground is critical to collaborative discussion of tough issues. Those in the discussion will naturally have opposing views, but they need to respect each other. It’s often hard for those on each side to go against their constituencies who want to demonize the other side. That’s why finding common ground is so important. When Jesse and Luke worked together, they learned to respect each other, and how they viewed issues. When Luke passed away, Jesse was asked to be one of his pallbearers.

Just imagine what it would take to find common ground among those involved in deciding how we approach the major issues of our time. Just imagine what it would take to stop the demonizing of legitimate but contrasting perspectives on issues we face as a nation. Just imagine what it would take to establish respect and civility as a treasured asset of our society.

* * *

Why cannot we work at cooperative schemes and search for the common ground binding all mankind together?” – William O. Douglas (longest serving Supreme Court Justice from 1939-1975)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.