On Common Ground
We are a nation of individuals, and yet we are continually asked, forced or otherwise jammed into “containers.” There are thousands of possible “containers,” and each of us is in many of them. You may call them demographics, but I’d like to frame them as containers, and here’s why.
Think of something right now. What came to mind? Your job? Your commute? Your family? Your cat or your dog? It could have been any one of millions of things. Now, if you asked 100 people to think of something, do you think they would have said the same thing as you did? How about 1,000 people? 100,000?
I can, almost, guarantee you that someone, somewhere, would have said something that was the same or very similar to what you replied. So, if you mentioned your wife, someone else would have done the same. Likewise, if you mentioned your job, there is no doubt that at least one other person would mention their job as the first thing that came to their mind.
Each individual differentiator, or opinion, that you hold is, most likely, held by someone else. Even the rarest of differentiators, like having stepped on the moon, lived in Antarctica or owned a Yugo, all have a counterpoint someplace on this planet. If you think of all the different containers in your lives, you can start to think of the others who may have the same containers as you.
I am 49, have grey hair, grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, have two kids, have been married for 21 years, moved to Colorado 22 years ago and love cycling.
If I were to have a container with only the people who match all seven of these characteristics, the number in this container will be, most likely, pretty small. Perhaps just myself. But separate all seven containers and the numbers of people who have at least one of these characteristics in common goes up dramatically.
In the entire world, there are lots of people who are 49. Lots of people who have grey hair. Each container as described above has the possibility of hundreds, thousands or even millions of people in it. Consequently, within this container of people, there’s always an icebreaker for conversation. There’s always a point of commonality.
How about other containers? Income? Race? Climate change? Gun ownership? Gun control? Shopping Carts? Growth? Different topics, but still, lots of people who would be in the same containers with you or me.
Why should our political beliefs be any different? Most of our opinions are in the range from the left to right meter. For example, most of us would probably call ourselves fiscally conservative. Here’s a quick test. If you donate $50 to a food bank, how much of that $50 would you like to go to food to be given to those in need? The closer your answer is to $50, the more fiscally conservative you are. If you don’t like the food bank analogy, replace it with something else. If you have $50 to buy a visa gift card, how much would you want to be loaded on that $50 gift card? The closer your answer is to $50, the more fiscally conservative you are.
On the other side of the coin. Have you ever donated to a church? A shelter? Helped with a Habitat for Humanity project? Put coins in the Salvation Army bucket at Holiday time? Bought Girl Scout Cookies? Or anything similar? Those are things that socially responsible and liberal people do; they help people who might be down on their luck, looking to improve themselves or going to times of struggle.
If we really look at our two-party system as two containers that we are told to put ourselves in, there’s a more than reasonable chance that there is something, perhaps more than one thing, that we believe that is outside the standard two-party container system. Often, or at least sometimes, there are candidates that may be in the party container that is not our own but that otherwise most closely match the other containers we are in. Yet, we feel compelled to vote our party and not our best interests.
For us to move forward, we must be willing to acknowledge that we do not easily fit into little containers, little boxes. We are all much more complex people, and our beliefs are much more nuanced than only two containers can represent. Once we recognize that each and every one of us can find something in common with another fellow citizen, then we can start to have conversations. And once we start having conversations, we can find the commonality and common ground that has gone missing in our society, our politics and our solutions.