Sometimes finding common ground with another person can seem like an insurmountable task. From what I read and see, it seems like things are so polarized. My television is full of people yelling at each other, one representing the “left” and the other representing the “right.”
But, are we really all that different? Is it possible finding common ground may not be as hard as we often make it?
Maya Angelou once wrote, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
5 Ways We Are All Alike
Most of us would agree she’s right. However, we also don’t really remember this simple truth a majority of the time. There are exceptions, of course. Anytime a national tragedy happens, it’s common for people to remember their core allegiance to their country over a political party. Phrases like, “There’s more that unites us than divides us,” are said with renewed passion. But, then life settles back into a rhythm where differences and distinctions are emphasized over commonalities and connection.
But, we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. There is more that unites us than divides us. We are all people, which means:
We all have a story
People aren’t statistics, though we often treat each other that way. We have a story – and if we give each other the opportunity, we actually like to tell it. We all came from somewhere, and we’ve all experienced challenges, struggles, and victories that have shaped us into who we are and what we believe.
Asking someone to tell you his or her story will almost always lead to common ground. Hearing someone else’s story helps me put myself in their shoes. It makes me appreciate that this person is a person, not a statistic. And, it reminds me that they are on a journey, just like me.
We all are afraid
Whether we would admit it or not, we are all afraid of something. To us, our fears seem perfectly rational, even when others might find them strange. For instance, coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. I would argue this fear is completely justified – but maybe it’s because I saw Stephen King’s It a little too young.
Fear has the potential to drive us apart, especially when we’re afraid of people we don’t understand. But, deep down, the fact that we all experience fear should remind us we’re not that different from each other. And, I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t have a fear of looking stupid or a fear of being unwanted or misunderstood.
As we get to know people’s stories, perhaps we’ll discover our fears aren’t all that different. And, even if someone is afraid of something we aren’t, maybe we can at least find common ground around the crippling power of fear and wrestle together with how to overcome it together.
We all are stuck in our own skin
Have you ever screamed at someone and said, “You just don’t understand what I’m going through!” I’m pretty sure I said that a “few” times in High School – and you probably did too.
There is truth to that statement. We are all stuck in our own skin, which means we are limited by our own perspective. You can’t fully understand me because you haven’t walked in my shoes. And, I can’t fully understand you, because I haven’t lived in your skin.
But, doesn’t this actually unite us a bit? Every person you meet is limited. And, every person needs help to see a bigger perspective. No one has all of the answers or sees everything clearly. Finding common ground often starts with recognizing our limitations; and since we’re all limited, we’re in good company.
We all are valuable
Every person is worthy of respect. I believe God has gifted every person with creativity, responsibility, and dignity. Whether you agree dignity is bestowed on us by God (or whether you believe in God at all), you probably believe people are incredibly valuable. We all cringe when someone is treated as “less than,” where their dignity is taken from them by someone else. Wherever people are turned into objects for pleasure or control, something within us should be outraged – because we inherently know people shouldn’t be treated that way. It’s why abuse, sexism, racism, racial inequality, slavery, neglect, and many other human and civil rights issues are abhorrent.
Finding common ground starts with remembering the person we are talking to has inherent value. Recognizing this value should change the way we approach a person with whom we disagree. It should lead us to civility.
We all are imperfect
Another common phrase we all say is, “I’m not perfect.” And the truth is, you aren’t. And neither am I.
Most of the time, we are incredibly forgiving of ourselves for our imperfections; however, we also tend to be incredibly forgetful that others are just as imperfect as we are. We give ourselves loads of grace for making a hasty comment, a rude interjection, or angry response. But if someone does that to us, watch out!
Finding common ground means giving the same grace we give ourselves to others. It means recognizing we will make mistakes, and others will make mistakes with us.
We are more alike, my friends, than we are different. Remembering what unites us will lead us to common ground, which will allow for us to have great conversations, hear stories, gain perspective, and grow.