Loving Enemies – Pt.3 (Truth and Common Ground)

By January 13, 2024 No Comments

One of my passions in recent years has been re-centering the concept of truth around “honesty” rather than “factuality.” This has partly been to distract from the pointless defence of theoretical “absolute truth” that is perceived, interpreted and communicated by flawed humans.  The crucial notion of truth is that we bear honest witness to our experience.

A huge benefit of this shift in understanding truth is that dialogue can respect that two parties are aiming at truth even when there is wide disagreement, varied interpretations of reality, and different memories and experiences. We expect these differences and can be enriched by them. Honesty, open-mindedness, and inclusion of marginalized voices can all add up to hopes that a larger “shared truth” can result.

In this third part on “loving enemies,” I am suggesting that a dedication to truth as bearing honest witness can make a significant contribution. We invite others to a similar honesty when we create a safe enough space in dialogue for others to share their full experience. Hopefully, the compassionate curiosity and invitation of personal stories emphasized in the previous part are a part of creating that safe space.

We can then increase the motivation in this direction by intentionally seeking “common ground.” You may recall the suggested questions:

  1. What’s your biggest/deepest concern in all of this? What are you mostly concerned about?
  2. What kinds of things do you find matter the most to you in all of this?

These are the kinds of questions that can begin the search for common ground. While our imagined solutions and positions may seem like they’re poles apart, very often the deeper concerns at the root come closer to values that we all share. After all most of us are seeking a world in which our loved ones can thrive in peace and safety. We may define the concepts differently, but most of us are hoping for a world in which beauty, justice, courage, faithfulness and compassion can increase.

Ottawa monument to the unity of the human familySo we ask compassionate questions about deeper concerns in order to dig down to the place where we find common ground. If the first layer of concerns that emerge still divide us, we may need to dig a little deeper. “OK, I hear those concerns that you have, but how have those concerns come to matter so much to you?” If we trust in our fundamental connectedness as human beings and that goodness (even the Presence of God!) is found within all, then we are determined to persist at this until that common ground is found.

Before exploring a few other tools for finding common ground, let’s be clear about what common ground does NOT mean:

  • Not uniformity – the blessing of common ground in conflict is that you get diverse points of view on a common concern. Common ground celebrates diverse thinking and multiple perspectives.
  • Not “meet in the middle” – it’s more about seeking a third way. If we start to find some common ground, we avoid the limited perspective that has locked us into the opposition of two rigid alternatives. Creativity sees more possibilities.
  • Not sacrificing passion for justice or truth – it’s (usually) about channeling emotions and motivations away from opposition toward seeking the best path to fulfilling the hopes that we care some much about.

With some hope then that finding common ground is both possible and valuable, here are some other ideas that can help us to find it:

  • Communicate vulnerability and movement – Aggression, rigidity and defensiveness tend to be mirrored in combatants. When we model vulnerability and movement, we invite the other to follow our lead and risk vulnerability and movement as well. By “movement” I mean demonstrating that one is not locked into a position; we concede a point or show openness to a new perspective. It’s much easier to find common ground when there is vulnerability and movement.
  • Leverage passions on both sides – Once a few common concerns are glimpsed, this opening can be expanded by reframing and leveraging the emotions that are present – We recognize the other’s passion as a shared desire for family, for peace, for autonomy, etc. Emotions can draw together instead of push apart.
  • Seek and name common (non-human) enemies – We’ve all heard of the unifying potential of finding a common enemy, and there is truth behind this. We just need to be careful that this does not create a new human enemy. Instead, we look for common “enemies” like: violence, family or societal breakdown, fear, etc.
  • Creatively seek common heart space – This takes more effort and skill, but there is huge potential in finding common symbols, music, art, and ritual – and having those become transforming shared moments – especially when these enable a celebration of small gains made toward mutual understanding and imagined future pathways.

A dedication to seeking and building on common ground does not naively expect that this will make entrenched conflicts disappear, but it can transform the long, patient work of building peace.