Sit on Common Ground

Photo by Ethan Robertson

Photo by Ethan Robertson

Are you frustrated with the growing division in our country? Are you avoiding talking to an old friend or family member because you can't comprehend how they can see an issue so differently? 

Last Friday, while in San Francisco listening to Van Jones speak, I found inspiration.

If you don't know Van, he's a CNN contributor and host of The Messy Truth. What I admire most about him is how he can juggle two things at once. Hold strong to his values (a self-proclaimed liberal) while searching for the smallest slivers of common ground with people who think completely different.

A good example was when he and Newt Gingrich, two people who passionately disagree on almost everything, formed a powerful partnership on criminal justice reform. They stood together on this one issue and made change.  

As I listened to Van speak, I couldn't help wonder, "How did he get past all the bloody differences?"

I found the answer in his next remarks. "What will get us out of this polarization is humanization. We need to have real human moments with one another to see past the differences. To see the commonality."

It got real when a woman in the audience asked, "Van, so many of us feel depressed and powerless about the division across our country and what's happening around the world. What can you tell us to feel better?"  Rather than a lofty response, he kept it simple (my kind of guy!).

"Look in the mirror." he offered, "Think of one thing you can do that can create a moment of empathy."

Chuckling, he reflected on a story from his own life, "My two sons. They love soccer. But if they lose their game, oh boy, watch out! They get in the car and complain all the way home about the other team, the referees...you name it, nothing is spared." So he turns to them and says, "OK. I hear you're upset and everyone else is to blame. I get it. But what is one thing, just one thing, WE could have done different?"  

A simple question that turns the table and gives us vision to see past the bloody differences. Gives us our power back. Lowers the anxiety to see the other as a human being again.

Maybe Van's story can inspire us. When you wake up tomorrow, look in the mirror. Ask yourself, what is ONE thing I can do to create compassion today? Let go of the big questions like whether our world is spinning off its axis or not. Focus on the opportunity right in front of you.

A coworker, a family member...someone you disagree with on almost everything. Find one thing you have in common. Focus only on that. Or when your child is angry, ask them a simply question like Van did with his boys to give them back their power.

If we want to create a more compassionate country, let's all start today by being explorers in search of common ground.