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Building Common Ground Between Bubbles – Part 3 of 4


Click to review Part 1, Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.


I want to add several things to my post about finding common ground between “bubbles.”

In 2008, then-Senator Obama gave his “More Perfect Union” speechin the wake of the Jeremiah Wright controversy.  Reverend Wright had been Senator Obama’s pastor and made some inflammatory statements that caused a major controversy for Obama’s presidential campaign.  In this speech, Senator Obama provided a sympathetic account of perspectives of both blacks and whites in the US.  While sympathetically explaining Reverend Wright’s thinking generally and how it related to African Americans’ struggles in our history, he was also critical of parts of Wright’s approach.  Balancing this discussion, he sympathetically described whites’ views, also noting some criticisms, which he illustrated by referring to his white grandmother, who he loved dearly, but who sometimes had used racial stereotypes that made him cringe.

I think that the approach and tone of this speech is a good model for trying to build common ground.  Senator Obama sought to understand perspectives of blacks and whites in the US, and judge them sympathetically without suggesting that one was better than the other.

Of course, some people are hateful and take actions and make statements intended to harm others or that are indifferent to the effects on others.  Sometimes people make statements that cause pain due to lack of understanding and insensitivity rather than intent.  Obviously, intent is a critical element in making judgments about people’s actions and statements.

One can take several lessons from Senator Obama’s speech.  People should first try to understand others, especially those with whom we disagree – perhaps disagreeing quite strongly.  After serious effort to understand others, we should judge.  All ideas are not equally valid or beneficial (or harmful).  So being non-judgmental isn’t a good solution.  When we judge others and their ideas, we should be as sympathetic as appropriate, considering their intentions, among other things.

We should also have some caution and humility recognizing our ownbiases, cognitive and otherwise.  In particular, we should recognize that we are subject to the bias of reactive devaluation – judging favorably ideas of people we like and judging unfavorably ideas from those we don’t like.

These problems are exacerbated by the news and social media.  By definition, the news media highlight things that are unusual and often shocking or else they usually wouldn’t be considered “newsworthy.”  These tendencies are aggravated by presenting things out of context to make the stories punchier.  Similarly, social media sometimes recklessly escalate conflict by circulating inflammatory and false stories.  Indeed, Oxford Dictionary just named “post-truth” to be the word of the year, reflecting the belief that truth is mostly irrelevant.  (Here’s a story about an app designed to counter fake news.)

All of this is to suggest that people be cautious about what information they believe but we should not give up our fundamental values and beliefs.  I do not suggest that Clinton supporters should suddenly adopt the Trump agenda or vice versa.  People should not agree just for the sake of agreeing.  Rather, we should constructively engage in conflict, as WFOI Bernie Mayer suggests in his book, Staying with Conflict.

Tiara, I’m glad that you found my prior post to be helpful.  These are difficult times, especially for people who were offended by statements made by President-elect Trump during the campaign and who are scared about how his election will change their lives.  Bernie Mayer himself described how hard this can be.

Obviously, the ideas in my posts aren’t comprehensive solutions.  But hopefully they will give you some hope, clarity, and determination about how you want to act.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the More Perfect Union speech (or hasn’t seen it lately), I encourage you to watch this Youtube video, which I found very inspiring and even more timely these days.

I still don’t know what would help move us forward, but hopefully these ideas would help.


John Lande

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law and former director of its LLM Program in Dispute Resolution.  He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He began mediating professionally in 1982 in California.… MORE >

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