We all know people who think so differently from us it seems there’s not a slice of common ground to stand on. Talking with them can be frustrating, painful, disappointing and, sometimes, blood boiling. And at the end, we’re often left feeling the world just got a little worse rather than a little better.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Not if we understand that what we typically think of as common ground —shared opinions, attitudes and beliefs — is in reality a false floor. Beneath it is something far more stable and encompassing: The common ground of universal and deeply felt human experience.
Amy, a recent participant in a "Difficult Conversations" workshop, gives us an example:
"When an older gentlemen with a ‘Trump Tower' notebook sat down next to me at the training, I took a deep breath and just prayed that the workshop would give me some tools to manage whatever interactions might transpire with this guy.
"Later, he ended up being my partner for the ‘life story’ sharing exercise, and we developed quite a connection.
"I'm married to a combat veteran, and that has flavored my life (good, bad and ugly) for the past 12 years. It turned out that the man with the Trump Tower notebook was a Vietnam veteran who has dealt with many of the same struggles and was able to empathize in a way that only a veteran or family member can, and offer the benefit of wisdom that only comes with age.
"So, this was quite a slap in the face for me to realize the value of letting go of our snap judgments. Had I not been forced to do so, I never would have pursued a conversation or developed a connection with this man."
Amy was fortunate to be in an environment that created a space for her to neutralize her snap judgment and break through the false floor that separated her from another. From that new place she was able to connect around something that mattered to her far more than how someone voted: finding comfort and wisdom to help her meet the challenges of a deep source of suffering in her life.