Finding Common Ground TogetherAfter a gorgeous fun day at the lake we tried a new local restaurant with two other families.  While eating one father said he couldn’t trade food because they are vegetarian.  My wife commented how I don’t understand vegetarianism and asked him why they don’t eat meat.

Internally, as I was listening to him, my ego was in full on battle mode and finding inconsistencies, hypocrisy, and all kinds of reasons why his choice is wrong.  If I had voiced my inner lawyer, what are the chances that he would say “oh wow I never thought of that, I’ve been such a fool and I’m going to start eating meat right now, thanks so much for educating me”?  Probably about as likely as him convincing me to stop eating meat and changing my diet.

Later that evening I remembered the principle of common ground, that below the surface of our choices and wants we all have the same needs.

If we look deep enough we can always find common ground, we are all human beings and share an internal world that is universal to us all.  The common ground between me and this wonderful father is that we are both concerned about what we eat, we both want to feel good and have good health.  Also we want our children to be healthy, have better options and to make better choices than we did, and for us to be better parents than our parents.  We all want this.  Had my inner peacemaker voiced this what are the chances he would have met me on this common ground and we could be in agreement?   When people speak with me in this way I feel heard and appreciate being acknowledged.  I much prefer this to someone trying to tell me why I’m wrong, and I suspect everyone feels the same way.

I grew up in a my way or the highway culture.  My grandfather often said what’s right is right, and he meant that he is right and everyone else is wrong.  This often felt quite abrasive and was pretty much guaranteed to squash any dialog or end up in an expensive legal battle.  So for me I now work on letting go of this combative way of communicating and replacing it with a welcoming connecting way to embrace everyone.   It’s hard work and I sometimes take one step forward and three steps back, like my mentor said I’m in communication 101 and my voice might sound rough as I learn to use it.

Authentic speech

Part of the struggle is finding me, my authentic voice, or not becoming the opposite of the explosive volcanic anger eruptions I witnessed growing up.  Often I don’t say anything at all, it feels better to have a silent reassuring talk with my inner critic than to give him the keys and let him run over everyone.  At the same time I’m learning to take a deep breath and wait a moment for wiser words to come to me.  Rather than stuffing my feelings and creating inner turmoil I find a way to speak what is true for me that doesn’t come at someone else’s expense, I’m not dumping my feelings on them.

When I angrily criticize or blame and shame someone it’s usually because I am feeling scared and anxious and I don’t like these feelings.   We are unconsciously trying to dump our feelings onto others so we don’t have to feel scared or anxious, the thought is that if we can just make the other person change their behavior we will feel better.

Changing and fixing

Changing people seems to come up a lot around health: hospitals, vaccinations, pain pills, doctors and surgery to fix the shortcomings of the body, or ancient traditional ways of living, healing and seeing dis-ease as a disconnection from nature and our true nature.  Easy to get caught up in who is right and who is wrong, or who is crazy or dangerous or scary.

I hear strong passionate opinions for every viewpoint in the spectrum that often end up in bitter heated arguments where no one feels heard.  With raising children everyone thinks they know the best way and has all types of tactics for prevailing.  We all want to win each other over to our way and yet the only way I know to get there is through common ground.  Kids food, clothes, and education decisions can be very divisive and yet beneath these are feelings of concern, excitement, and love.   When we connect through a shared feeling we can hear each other and realize that staying connected with each other is more important than “winning” the debate.  This to me feels better and is a wiser goal than wanting to be right.

How about investing in a view that we both agree on, win-win?

Ironically when we give up trying beat the other person a solution that works for everyone can present itself.  How?   During the first year of getting divorced my ex and I spent a small fortune on lawyers trying to force our demands on each other.  This was exhausting and eventually we both agreed to sit down with a mediator.

Being in the same room was scary after so much bitter separation.   The brilliant tool the mediator used was to write down on a big white board all the possible outcomes of our divorce.  Seeing all the choices listed up there, no matter how unappealing, brought almost instantly clarity to both of us.  We both picked the same choice and the whole process took less than 2 hours.  By shifting our focus away from our differences we allowed our similarities to emerge.

Common ground is always there, it can be found when we let go of seeing others as enemies to be defeated.

Many a ruler and regime are so fearful and contemptuous of differences they have made changing or conquering others their official policy, and when rolled out on a worldwide campaign it leads to world wars and the suffering and death of millions.  My understanding is that when we are disconnected from our feelings and each other we are unable to care what happens to people, they become objects or things that can be manipulated or discarded like a piece of trash.  Peace can be sustained by seeing the common traits we all share.  Seeing ourselves in each other concepts of “us or them” are dissolved.

I can change myself and you can change yourself, it’s not through conquering, it comes through befriending the parts of ourselves we are uncomfortable with.

I was taught to view my personality traits as if they are people that make up my inner “village”.  Some of the characters I have in my head are the quiet introvert, angry jerk, uncool weirdo, lover, fighter, creative, destroyer, lazy bum, bigot, dork, jock, peacemaker, critic, praiser, judge, doormat, and on and on.

The parts I didn’t like initially are the angry jerk and uncool weirdo, I tried to disown and pretend I never acted like that and didn’t have those in me.  I had to reclaim and admit to myself and everyone that I have those behaviors, and learn to love them and stick up for them.   Also by acknowledging I have all these parts in me, I have more understanding and compassion when I see them in others – common ground.

Maybe this sounds crazy or nuts?  I’m reminded of a hilarious scene in the movie Liar Liar where Jim Carrey’s character is fighting with himself, his inner liar is trying to take over but cannot:

As I became more conscious I was tempted to disown the bigot, critic, and destroyer.  Nooooo, I got them to, they are in my head and I need to take care of them so they don’t wreak havoc.  This is hard work and at the same time good news as trying to change or defeat everyone around us is exhausting and never works.  Yep I have the changer/fixer in me also, that one is the hardest to talk down and keep from telling everyone what to do and how to live.

Feeling is healing

My solution is to keep working on owning all my “stuff” and speak from the I – this is what works for ME, what makes sense to ME, what I have found to be true, what I suspect is going on, or this is how I am feeling.  I feel much better speaking in this way, I can speak with 100% certainty that in this moment this is true for me.  When I communicate in this way there is nothing to argue and no one is wrong.  No one but me knows how I am feeling, or have felt, or will feel in the future.  This works much better for me than telling someone what they should do, could do, or better do.

I find it very empowering to know that I can take responsibility for my feelings and no longer need to worry about trying to change or manage everybody else’s feelings.  I take care of me for you and you take care of you for me.   From what I have seen when people are in touch with and taking responsibility for their feelings they have more empathy and compassion for everyone.  We see ourselves in each other and in nature and our self care extends to our world and beyond.  Instead of looking for a fight out there we find and befriend our inner peacemaker, once we are at peace with ourselves we can bring peace wherever we go – to the world and beyond.  Win-Win.