Finding common ground

On Tuesday, the Hauenstein Center hosted a debate between two Grand Valley State University professors on opposite sides of the political spectrum. With even tones, they civilly discussed the U.S. budget, sequestration and the role of the federal government. Neither agreed on any particular issue, but they acknowledged one another’s views and, as it seemed, open-mindedly received the perspective of the other.

This is just one of the many events the center has hosted as part of its Common Ground initiative, which appropriately seeks to establish common ground between people of opposing perspectives. We would like to express our support of this movement and encourage you to do the same.

After all, common ground is what keeps society moving. Unless an explicit hierarchy exists, decisions are made by groups of individuals who contribute unique views to form a compromise, and that compromise is found on common ground.

This sort of system exists at all levels in every sector of public and private life; it’s universal.

On a small scale, all you students can appreciate the importance of common ground as you engage in group work; to effectively and efficiently collaborate, you need to compromise, and no compromise is ever arrived at when two parties are standing still and not actively seeking common ground.

Even at a university level, ideological polarization has presumably resulted in hostility and a lack of cooperation. There are opposing ideas in any discipline wherein an opinion could be had, even setting aside religious and political allegiances. Certainly there are scientists divided on the source of global warning just as there are English academics divided on which critical lens is most valuable in textual interpretation.

Perhaps these disagreements don’t hinder academic departments as much as the liberal-conservative division inhibits the U.S. Senate, but they are troublesome nonetheless. Where there is dissension, there is likely an inability to comprehend how the other can come to such an “idiotic” conclusion. Obviously, one thought is more informed and correct than the other, or so the dogmatically partisan thinking goes.

In this respect, seeking common ground is essential even when compromise isn’t. Giving honest consideration to others’ views and wholly understanding the reasons behind them only improves your perspective, as your ultimate view is more informed and you are better able to empathize and engage in dialogue with people who disagree with you.

And that is how things get done.