Our nation is polarized. We are gridlocked on many important issues including race relations.

The best way to resolve gridlock is to find common ground.

Common ground is the cornerstone to resolving human conflict. More than simply a compromise, it is a new area of common interest discovered through a collaborative, co-creative process, generating a vision that is often greater than any of our own.

How do we find common ground?

First of all, we must be committed to having a genuine appreciation and understanding of opposing viewpoints. The SALT principle, advocated by Rice Broocks, the co-founder of our nonprofit Common Ground Network, is a great starting point: start a conversation, ask a question, listen  and then talk.

Secondly, we need to speak in the “language of the listener” by using their vocabulary.

Thirdly, we need to separate position from person and policy from value. The goal is to have a civil dialogue with respect.

Fourthly, we need to trade places and look at an issue from our opponent’s perspective. As Jonathan Haidt pointed out in his seminal book, “The Righteous Mind,” we all have an innate bias and value system, so we see the world through our own tinted glasses.

Fifthly, we must be willing to examine the basis and validity of our own narrative, by asking ourselves, “Is there a chance I could be wrong?” And if so, “Why do I think I might be wrong?”

Finally, even if we can only find a small amount of common ground, say 1%, that 1% could have a significant and transformative effect overall.

If we apply these six common ground-seeking steps to the issue of race relations, we will be able to build bridges and break down barriers, understand each other better and come closer to the truth.

We must overcome our own experiences

This co-creative process will enable us to discover a new area of common interest. Each of our views is based on our own limited life experience. When we meet people who have a different life experience, we will learn new things. In fact, we learn the most when we communicate with people who have views opposite our own.

As Thomas Crum pointed out in his book “The Magic of Conflict,” finding common ground is a collaborative process which will move us from our own point of view to a joint viewing point, a higher ground, so that we will gain a broader perspective in the context of the bigger picture.

Winning does not mean someone else has to lose. Life should not be “you or me” but rather “you and me.” No matter what racial group that one comes from, we all have a shared humanity, and we all will benefit from being partners, rather than opponents, on spaceship Earth.

Through such a genuine and productive process of finding common ground, we will not only be able to identify solutions, but also and even more importantly, be inspired to change and become better human beings who are more willing to work together with others.

Ming Wang, MD, Ph.D. is a co-founder of the Common Ground Network, www.commonground.network.

Published on Tennessean, Sep 6th, 2020.