Reclaiming Common Ground

Reclaiming Common Ground

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In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.
— Shunryu Suzuki

I am still sitting in the conversations of the past weekend I participated in, amongst the most ordinary of people, myself included, who are looking through a new lens to cultivate understanding and practices surounding the complexities we face as humans in a world that elevates sound bytes over sound thinking and simplistic duality over the moral and social imagination we inherently possess. 

The teachers of Surrey organized a one-day gathering entitled Reclaiming Common Ground that invited participants from BC, Washington and Oregon to come together and share our collective wisdom about issues that are polarizing and often seem intractable - race relations, sustainability of our planet and resources, issues and expressions of identity and sexuality and how we teach our children and youth to engage these large complexities in such hostile times.

I love that even the posture of inclusion across the border that divides us was key to all of us coming together for conversations and a meal together, to hear one another in Indigenous, Latino/ Latina, Black, Asian, Queer and Western European voices. 

Common ground in this space felt like a mutuality of deeply shared respect even as our two countries hold differing views and practices in regards to social and economic policies. And I think that’s what sets common ground apart from simply gathering people together in common spaces. It is a commitment to a shared process of learning from one another and learning together with one another.  Of course, it was held in a school, a place created for the purpose of learning.

But the space was held with an openness from both the organizers and participants with such a compassionate reverence that I was immensely hopeful and grateful as I moved through the day.

4 hours later and 20 kms east, I was sitting in a Mennonite church screening a film about what it means to be Trans and Christian.

In. A. Church.

With transgender women and men intermingled with the straight, the curious and the compassionate. Talking about sexuality and gender and reclaiming faith as an integral part of one’s identity and spirituality. My mindset from my experiences that morning amplified the significance of what I was participating in this evening, the reclaiming common ground between the church and those whom have been excluded and persecuted for centuries because their sexuality does not conform to the dominant narrative of the western Christian worldview.

For far too long these conversations have taken place in media headlines and across violent protest lines. But in this space, this holy ground, I felt a re-weaving of the threads of our mutuality taking place, stitch by brave stitch, solidarity with each story being told and listened to with honour and humility. 

As I left that evening I was moved by the particularity of each person’s experience and that even while we must work diligently to continue to cultivate common ground together, we must also hold space for each unique journey to exist and be valid in and of itself.  

But creating common ground can’t be one sided.

A friend of mine is First Nations and has purposefully engaged in reconciliation work recently. And she is so generous in where and how she shows up to do this work but commented that too often people expect her to come and do all the work of education and informing while assume the posture of being passive receptors and responders to what they are being taught. 

Reclaiming common ground takes hard work on all sides to not just show up, but show up prepared, informed, educating ourselves and those in our spheres of influence to participate in this co-creating work.

Take a class, go to a workshop, read books, watch webinars and videos. Don’t expect a trans person to do all the work in helping you re-frame your perspective. Don’t rely on the wisdom and patience of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters to do all the heavy lifting of reconciliation. 

So where do we start? 

I believe we start with the unshakeable belief that there has to be a better way for us to live in harmony with those who are different from us yet carry within their difference a piece of the solution to addressing large systemic and socio-political structures that are no longer able to sustain our communities, ideologies and practices. And concurrently, affirming that we both have truth, wisdom and perspectives that are essential for us to create movement forward.

Crafting better arguments and more definitive positional stances is not the answer either. In the conflict management course I teach at univeristy, we reiterate repeatedly that when we focus on interests rather than positions we are better able to understand what we want, what our counterpart wants and the intersections of commonality that inevitably exist between the two of us. 

Be brave and ask yourself three questions:

  1. What lies behind/ beneath your strong feelings in this particular conflict/ issue?
  2. What is it that is really important to you about this issue (be specific)?
  3. What bias is holding you back from looking at the issue from the perspective of your countepart?

Common ground also requires us to recover physical, social and emotional spaces for dialogue to take place. We hear the word ”safe space” thrown around so liberally these days that it has lost much of its rich meaning.

But I believe we also need to reclaim this idea and practice of cultivating safe spaces in order for kindness and truth to set the tone for big ideas and complex conversations to unfold in ways that are nurturing and holistic. Work with your counterpart to determine what a safe space would look like for each of you. Ask yourself how you feel about going into a certain space and if you can be free from distraction or judgment there, allowing yourself to be fully present. I encourage you to take the time to find the right space and place to gather those who like you, are longing for a new way forward. 

As I continue to look for common ground in the days and months ahead, I am learning to seek out voices previously silenced in the arenas I currently find myself. I am stepping back from directing conversations to finding ways to curate curiosity and ask better questions. I am leaning into practicing shosin, or the beginner’s mindset, whereby I let go of my preconcieved ideas and expertise and study something from a completely new learners frame of reference. 

Here’s a few resources I have found helpful along the way…

Feeling Stuck this Summer?

Feeling Stuck this Summer?

Achieving Ourselves

Achieving Ourselves