Finding Civility and Common Ground in Times of Conflict

Since the dawn of time conflict has been an instrument for change. Dissatisfaction, and indeed disagreements, have created opportunities for progress and growth.

Conflict can be productive. It’s ugly and messy when we are in the thick of it, but we can come out of it for the better if we tread carefully and with civility.

When is the last time you listened, I mean truly listened to a viewpoint that directly contradicts your own?

When is the last time you have taken the time to research and attempted to understand opposing viewpoints?

When is the last time you listened to understand, and not simply respond?

It is human nature to want to win. So we do what we need to do to ensure that we do. We arm ourselves with all the soundbites, headlines and bits of information that support our way of thinking, and then, we repeat them as fact (even if they’re not). We repeat them ad nauseam, reinforcing our viewpoint. We convince ourselves that our way is the ONLY way.


So what happens then? When someone comes along and disagrees with us?

We argue to win.

And there lies the problem with destructive conflict. We have made up our minds that there are winners and losers. And guess what, we do not want to be on the losing side! So we dig in. We get angry. We attack and we lose the ability to EDUCATE and thus the opportunity to find common ground.

It’s one of our most primitive tools for survival: fight or flight. The science is complex, but fascinating if you have a spare moment to research it. The whole idea however is that we are wired to have immediate responses to something that threatens our safety.

So here we are, amassing information (likely unreliable) while using an out of control form of worldwide communication…Social Media. We are bombarded by viewpoints that are in direct opposition to our own by people we barely know or sometimes not at all.

We are in a constant state of fight or flight. Our primitive brains take over, forcing our logical brain and self to take a backseat. And so on and on, we fight.  We will win at any costs, without logic, but loss of friendships, family relationships, sometimes our jobs, our civility.

How does this stop? I won’t pretend to have the answers as there is no easy way to bridge the vast divide facing humanity.

But what if we did stop…and think, even for a moment? Let our stress response pass. Check our sources. Check our bias. Consider we might not have ALL the answers, maybe some, but certainly not all of them. And, above all, remember that there is a real life person attached to that opposing viewpoint. We must, whether we are diplomats, family, friends, or even strangers, treat each other with respect. Always.

We must aim to educate, not for the sake of winning, but for the sake of finding common ground and shared humanity. And if we fail, we try again and again and again, until it sticks and someone listens to understand and we have consensus. Then, we all win.

The midterm elections are Tuesday November 6, 2018. Please research your candidates and vote. Contact your local election office to review a sample ballot.

After the election, stay involved. Be the voice of reason and don’t forget to stop, and think, and listen. Be constructive. Educate, don’t belittle. Share your story and bring humanity into politics once more.


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