There is a park in Lakeland, Florida, that used to be called Common Ground Park.
It is a children’s playground, with thousands of square feet of swings, slides, hills, tunnels and interactive items that can keep a child’s interest for hours. Show up on a Saturday morning in the fall, and there won’t be a place to park.
The park itself is ideal for kids and families on many levels, but the name was also chosen as a sort of ideal.
No matter a child’s characteristics, their strengths or weaknesses, their appearance, their gender, their address, their economic status or their disability, they all entered the park on the same common ground. They can all play, they can all experience the joy and goodness available at the park.
Finding common ground should be simple. What are the starting points from which we all are coming into an experience or an opportunity?
In life, we all start from the common ground of being human, of desiring love and meeting our needs of food, clothing and shelter.
As citizens, we all have rights to free speech, to freedom of expression and religion.
If you’re a Christian, you join other Christians in believing that Jesus was real and died for your sins.
But then what? How do we find common ground past those very foundational pieces? Or what if the only common ground you appear to have with someone else is that you are human?
There are three key ways to build common ground, all of which they time and concerted effort.
There is no way to develop common ground with another human being without at least spending time with them. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face (though that would be ideal), it can also be by phone or text or video, etc.
Social media, however, probably isn’t the best way.
We can’t exist in bubbles to thrive, whether they be physical bubbles created by geography or structures or digital bubbles forged by social networks. We have to spend time in conversation and fellowship with people who are different than us if we have any hope of discovering the areas of agreement and cooperation that really do exist.
2) Share openly
People love to talk about themselves, but we aren’t as good at really sharing openly about our hopes, fears and dreams. Those are the conversations that can reveal where true affinity exists.
It’s foolish to expect someone to understand where we’re coming from if we don’t honestly tell them where we’re coming from. We have to search internally to reinforce or even challenge our beliefs and priorities so that we can clearly communicate them to others. Only then are we able to welcome others into our lives and work together.
3. Listen and Observe
This is the hardest of them all. As much as we love to talk about ourselves, we really struggle to listen to others share openly to us.
But simply being quiet and giving others the chance to share isn’t enough. We have to give them our full attention and watch how they say it. We have to observe how they live their lives and match those actions with their words to get a full picture of their passions and beliefs.
We have to be slow to question others’ viewpoints and practice patience in letting them reveal the depths of those views to us. It’s at that point, once we’ve really listened and understood someone’s values and perspective, that we’re ready to establish a common ground.
And going through the process of interacting, sharing and listening is likely to reveal more commonalities that we would have ever expected. Of course there will still be dividing lines, probably some that can never be crossed. There may even be some that do ultimately overshadow any common ground that might exist.
More likely, however, is the experience of working together on areas of agreement and truly bonding over shared passions will make the dividing lines less severe.
Seek out people and share life with them, and the common ground will reveal itself.