In the class I teach about argument and persuasion, we discuss the necessity of finding common ground when dealing with conflicting opinions on an issue. This is particularly important when people hold two very different views on a topic.
For example, when it comes to gun control some people believe we need tighter restrictions, while others believe these restrictions take away their rights. However, both sides can agree that something needs to be done to prevent shootings. Acknowledging this common ground can help the two sides work together to find a solution.
I often lament to my students that our political system fails to find common ground and work together. Each party proposes its ideas and will not listen to the other party, often discounting the other party’s idea solely because it is from the other party. This only leads to stalemates and further polarization. The media tends to make matters worse by focusing on the parties’ rejections of each other.
The recent passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act here in Indiana is a perfect example of this polarization. I could find plenty of information on both why and why not the legislation was needed, but no dialogue between the two sides.
Additionally, most of what I found seemed to be attacks on those of the opposing view. Both groups saw each other as hateful and discriminatory. No real dialogue could occur, as each side just kept shouting that they were right and the other side was wrong. This prevents solutions from being found.
I see this same type of behavior surrounding the issue of police shootings. Some argue that the police must be able to defend themselves and that those who get shot brought it upon themselves by breaking the law. They won’t admit that some shootings are unjustified. Others argue that the police shoot unnecessarily and are not held accountable for their actions. This group won’t admit that some shootings are justified.
So, how do we find common ground, get real dialogue going and find solutions? First, we need to concede that there is not just one “right” solution. Next, we need to be willing to listen to others’ views and understand their position. This can be hard to do.
In preparation for a longer persuasive paper, my students write a short paper arguing for the view opposite their position. They have to pretend to agree with that position and present those arguments. Some of my students have difficulty presenting the other side without showing how they think it is wrong. We must learn how to do this, too. Understanding how others view an issue is necessary to help us find common ground and solutions.
Another thing we must do is realize that our ideas are not universally applicable. For example, there are situations where a police officer may be justified in shooting someone, but it is unlikely that all situations are justified.
We also need to acknowledge that other views are valid and that different things may be important to other people. Just because we don’t agree with something doesn’t mean we should immediately dismiss it. We need to examine the reasoning behind opposing views and understand why someone would hold those positions.
Can these strategies work? Yes, they can. Several of my students have started out with one idea about an issue and as they do research to learn more about varying views, their position changes. They come to understand the other side and realize that it has merit. For example, when one pro gun rights student learned more about gun regulation and wrote his paper for that position, he amended his original argument and admitted that some gun regulation could be helpful.
But how about in politics? Utah recently passed a religious freedom protection act that was not accompanied by the furor we saw here in Indiana. What was the difference? In Utah both sides discussed the issue together, found common ground and came up with a solution. Both groups had a voice, and the other side respected their views.
You don’t always have to agree with the other side, but you do need to be respectful of their ideas. When you feel like your point of view is being attacked, it is very difficult to find any merit in your opponent’s view.
We can, and must, find common ground and ways to work with each other, even when we have varying views, to find solutions and avoid stalemates.
Susan Cox is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.