Monday, May 4, 2009

the key to common ground

Last Friday I attended my school’s “Evening of Action”, where seniors showcased their social justice projects from civics class. Each group has a topic that they were studying – an injustice – and they made a web site and poster to educate people about this injustice and to offer solutions (or at least the beginnings of solutions).

It was a fantastic event. The topics ran the gamut, covering homelessness, sex trafficking, media portrayals of women / female body image, and pollution in the bay, among other things. The students had really done their research, and I was impressed by how passionately many of them spoke about their topics, some of which were topics they had not been interested in before doing the projects. (Please check some of these out – links are below – I bet you’ll learn something you didn’t know!)

But there was one question that the students (pretty uniformly) had a hard time addressing: Where is the other side coming from? Why doesn’t everyone just agree with you and implement your solution?

Understanding “the other side’s” perspective is something that I continue to work on – I’m certainly no expert – and I don’t even know when or how I became convinced that such a thing was important. But I do think that inability to see the perspective of people we disagree with is the biggest thing that keeps us from getting things done in the U.S. – from finding the common ground, so to speak.

This isn’t just an issue for urban schools – I’ve been in rooms full of extraordinarily well-educated people who can’t seem to get past “Republicans are closed-minded, look how illogical/inflexible they are about [insert issue here], that’s why we can’t reach a common ground with they about [insert different issue here].” (I’m not Republican, by the way – just annoyed by the attitude of some fellow non-Republicans.)

Anyway, I don’t know how people can learn to see the perspectives of people with whom they ardently disagree, but I do think that’s the key to being able to find a common ground on all kinds of issues.

These are some of the students’ projects (I will update later when I get the rest of the URLS). As you read them, please keep in mind that they were produced by high school students – there’s a lot of great stuff in there, but don’t try to judge it by professional standards!

Injustice in Tibet
The War on Drugs
The Death Penalty
Foster Care
Net Neutrality
Fish Contamination
Immigrant Detention Centers <-- My favorite since it was a topic I really didn't know anything about Eating Disorders
The Three Strikes Law
Gang Injustice
Gang Injunctions


  1. I whole-heartedly agree. It's not just key in politics, but even in personal life. Whenever I'm in a personal argument, I try to make a conscious effort to find things the other person's saying that I agree with. It can change the tone of the discussion.

  2. I agree -- both that it is important and that it's a struggle. Certainly I struggle with it a lot. I think that, for me, in large part that's because I grew up in an extremely homogeneous place, politically, and didn't really meet a non-Massachusetts Republican until I went away to college. Now I've married into a pretty conservative family and get lots of practice seeing the other side and attempting real dialogue whenever I talk to my in-laws. It's not easy, but I think I have been getting better at it over the last few years.