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Let's Find Common Ground

Author: Common Ground Committee

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As the tone of public discourse becomes increasingly angry and divisive, Common Ground Committee offers a healing path to reaching agreement and moving forward. We talk with top leaders in public policy, finance, academe and more to encourage the seeking and finding of points of agreement, and to demonstrate how combating incivility can lead us forward.

109 Episodes
Many Americans are exhausted by polarization and hyper-partisanship. Bitter divides are not just a problem for election campaigns and public institutions; they’re also damaging the workplace.  Employee morale at many businesses and nonprofits has plunged— impacted by tribalism, culture wars, and political divides. CEOs are often in a tough spot. Some have banned talking politics at the office. Or they’ve taken a public stand on an issue of the day in an effort to ‘do the right thing.’ But that can end up pleasing some employees while alienating others.   In this episode of 'Let's Find Common Ground,' we have the privilege of hearing from Simon Greer, the visionary founder of Bridging the Gap. This organization is dedicated to equipping college students with the skills to communicate effectively across differences. Simon's work extends beyond the campus, as he also consults with numerous organizations grappling with these same challenges within their workforces. His efforts offer a beacon of hope in the face of workplace polarization.
Partisan divides are as deep as ever. Most Americans are exhausted by the dysfunction and divisions in American politics. Some scholars claim the country is on the brink of civil war. But several recent polls suggest that clear majorities of voters agree on many issues.  We dive into the data from two different groups that study American attitudes and beliefs. Kate Carney is chief of staff for the nonpartisan research organization, More in Common. Her work aims to help build strong communities for a strong country. John Geer is a professor of political science and leads the Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy. He discusses findings from Vanderbilt’s which tracks trust in institutions and democracy. Hear some of their surprising findings on this episode of "Let's Find Common Ground".
Soon after Joe Biden became president he said in his inaugural address that wanted to bring Americans together, to forge unity. But maybe unity isn’t what we should aim for. Our guest this week says instead of focusing on that elusive goal, Americans need to concentrate on what’s damaging all of us: toxic polarization. In this episode we look at what toxic polarization is, how it got worse in recent decades, and how to end it, person-by-person. We learn about the role played by Common Ground Committee and other groups— local and national— in the bridging community. Peter Coleman has advised the Biden administration on how to detoxify America. He is a well-known mediator and psychologist who specializes in conflict resolution. A professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, he is the author of the book, The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization.
Acclaimed musician and recording artist Daryl Davis has interviewed hundreds of KKK members and other White supremacists and influenced many of them to renounce their racist ideology. We hear his brave and remarkable story. Daryl's personal quest began many years ago, after a concert when he was in a country music band. A card-carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan praised his piano playing. Daryl recognized that he had an opportunity to ask an important question about racism: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”  Daryl Davis is the author of "Klan-Destine Relationships"— the first book written about the Ku Klux Klan by a Black writer. His work in race relations has been highlighted in speaker series across the country. His documentary film, "Accidental Courtesy", features his process of conversation and understanding to bridge differences and promote racial reconciliation.
Independent voters make up well over 40 percent of the voting public. But you wouldn’t know that from media coverage, which focuses almost exclusively on red versus blue. Independents are often overlooked or seen as wishy-washy, bending in the wind. Our guests on this episode say that’s a big misconception.  In this show, we look at a huge group of voters, including many young people, who make up a growing slice of the US population. Significantly, the number of American voters identifying as independent is at a record high. Our guests are both political experts. Jackie Salit is the author of Independents Rising and president of Independent Voting, an organization dedicated to bringing respect, recognition, and reform to independent voters. John Opdycke is president of Open Primaries, which campaigns for primary elections in which every American can participate, not just registered Republicans or Democrats.
In this presidential election year, partisan divides cause political gridlock and distrust. We're encouraged to believe that we're right and those on the other side are ignorant, stupid, or evil. But avoiding awkward conversations with those we disagree with is a big reason why America is so bitterly divided.   Journalist, bridge builder, and author Mónica Guzmán is the loving liberal daughter of conservative Mexican immigrant parents. We hear the personal story told with humor and passion of how Mónica set out to understand what divides America. In this episode of "Let's Find Common Ground", we discuss practical ways to use our own sense of curiosity to have cross-partisan conversations with colleagues, friends, and family.  Mónica is the author of the book "I Never Thought Of It That Way". She serves as Senior Fellow for Public Practice at Braver Angels, and hosts the podcast series, "A Braver Way".
American politics are often dominated by the loudest voices on the left and right. In this episode, we learn the crucial difference between what Americans get from their elected representatives and what they really want to hear. Professor Sean Westwood of Dartmouth College is our guest. As Director of The Polarization Research Lab, he studies American political behavior and public opinion, examining how partisanship and information from political elites affect the behavior of citizens.   "There is an absolute need for common ground," Sean Westwood tells us. The research shows that most Democrats and Republicans "know very little about the other side and have significant misperceptions."  We learn why elites, including political leaders and celebrities, have a powerful impact on public behavior. "When we humanize the opposition and bring politicians together and demonstrate how they can have civil disagreement, you set norms that the public will follow," he says.
The Third Founding

The Third Founding


With our political system mired in problems, there’s plenty of talk about ‘fixing politics.’ But our guest Mark Sappenfield, Editor of the Christian Science Monitor, says that idea is too simplistic. What needs to change, he says “is upstream from politics. It’s how we relate to each other as human beings in our society. And until that changes, politics isn’t going to change.” In a deeply thoughtful conversation, Mark shares his personal take on where the U.S. is and where it needs to go. Americans’ expectations have changed a lot in recent years with mass internet access and the instant gratification brought about by digital life. We want something? We expect to get it within hours. But Mark argues this culture of convenience and focus on the self has seeped into the rest of our lives, altering our expectations for what politicians can do for us and absolving us of personal responsibility.  From his current home in Germany Mark discusses the upside of a less convenient daily life, the difference between compromise and curiosity, and how a societal re-set he calls 'a third founding’ may be needed to get America back on track.
Our final podcast for 2023 is the one-hundredth episode of “Let’s Find Common Ground”. We look back and include special moments from six shows during the year. Americans disagree on many things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Journalist and author Amanda Ripley explains why, all too often, we see conflicts that are more about scoring points than seeking resolution. Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment, who studies democracy and conflict, discusses whether America’s divides could be spinning out of control. Author and Washington Post columnist Ted Johnson examines race and patriotism in creative, thoughtful ways. In this episode, we also share several extraordinary moments in our conversation with two women on opposite sides of the abortion debate, and how they gained respect and understanding for each other without compromising their views on one of the most contentious issues of our time. Two faith leaders joined us to discuss religion's role in finding common ground. And acclaimed television journalist Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour gives us a vivid example of how Washington DC is much more divided than it once was.
Recently, during a public event at Utah's State Capitol, Governor Spencer Cox issued a stark warning: "Either we, the people, collectively decide we're going to stop hating our fellow Americans, or we'll start shooting each other."   In our podcast, we hear why Governor Cox passionately believes that the country is heading in a dangerous direction with hyperpartisanship and political dysfunction and what he's doing about it with his Disagree Better Initiative. Spencer Cox, a Republican, is the 2023 Chair of the bipartisan National Governors Association. He selected "Disagree Better" to be the Association's current campaign. Through public debates, service projects, meetings, and public service announcements, Disagree Better brings together red and blue governors, looking at the problems of polarization and how to elevate solutions that Common Ground Committee and other groups in the bridging community are implementing.
The Soul of Civility

The Soul of Civility


The state of public discourse is often dire and includes insults and threats. We assume the worst of the other side and are not afraid to call them out publicly, especially online. Our guest on today’s show says this behavior isn’t just rude. It’s uncivil. And that civility - not politeness - makes a real difference in how we think about ourselves and treat each other. Our guest, Alexandra Hudson, is the author of the new book The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves. She grew up in a family where manners mattered. When she went to work for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Trump administration, she thought good manners would help her navigate a hostile work environment.   But she failed to thrive, despite putting politeness and friendliness into overdrive. She left politics deflated. Still, her experience got her thinking about true civility and how it can help us find common ground.  As the holiday season begins, we explore the difference between civility and politeness, how loneliness and isolation contribute to an uncivil society, and the important part hospitality plays in being genuinely civil.
When conservative Republican Mark Klicker and liberal Democrat Alex Ramel met in person for the first time, their opinions about each other rapidly changed. A frosty online exchange of policy differences over Zoom quickly turned into a constructive example of close bipartisan cooperation.  After Washington State eased COVID restrictions and resumed in-person legislative sessions last year, Representatives Ramel and Klicker worked together on a renewable energy tax bill. The state legislation has just become law. Much of tax revenues from wind and solar will now go to the communities where renewable energy is produced. The bill was designed to answer some potential local objections to renewable energy projects and to make progress on combating climate change.  In this episode, both legislators tell us that online legislative sessions were a barrier to bridging differences and finding common ground.  What had been missing during months of online meetings were moments of eye contact and the opportunity to establish informal, in-person contact. We hear more about their legislation, finding common ground on the environment, and their friendship across partisan divides.
Violent threats against members of Congress are up, and hate crimes have increased to the highest levels ever recorded. Fear is being used as a tool by both Republicans and Democrats to win votes.  In this episode, we speak with Rachel Kleinfeld, a fellow in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  Rachel says people talking across differences isn’t enough to end polarization, even if it can create goodwill and lower the temperature in the short term: there needs to be institutional change and politicians who come together to defend democratic norms. A recent podcast guest in the UK told us it sometimes seems like the US is on the verge of civil war. Rachel says this is unlikely. As someone who grew up in Alaska among neighbors firing the occasional warning shot from their yards, Rachel knows firsthand that ‘threats and justification for violence are not the same as attacks.’
Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan, was an elected politician, served as a senior British government minister, and was a visiting fellow at Yale University. Today he is the host of a highly successful podcast— "The Rest Is Politics"— and outgoing president and advisor of the global anti-poverty charity, GiveDirectly. By any measure, he is a man of many parts.  In our podcast, Stewart raises the alarm about threats to democracy in Europe and the U.S., explains his detailed understanding of common ground, and discusses the stark difference between skills needed to win political office and what's needed to govern well.  We ask him about the parallels between U.S. and U.K. politics, the threats to democracy from populism, and how other elected politicians overseas view America's current political division and dysfunction. "The U.S. public square really looks incredibly divided," Rory Stewart tells us.  We also discuss his outspoken new memoir about his years in the U.K. Parliament and government, "How Not To Be a Politician."
What a time to try and fix Congress. But that’s what our guests on this episode are determined to do. This show features two politicians from the newly launched Fix Congress caucus. Reps Derek Kilmer (D-Wa) and William Timmons (R-SC), first appeared on our show last year as members of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. The stakes were high when we recorded this latest interview: the budget deficit had once more taken center stage, and the countdown to a possible government shutdown was underway. These members of Congress are frustrated but also hopeful. They discuss dealing with the vast amount of federal government debt, the support congressional leaders have shown for their efforts, and how technology can play a part in fostering bipartisanship.
When we consider the meaning of citizenship, most Americans usually think about individual rights. In this episode, we hear a bold call for change. Our guest, Richard Haass, says that if democracy is to survive, we must re-envision citizenship and consider our obligations to one another.  He argues that the greatest threat the country faces comes not from foreign adversaries but from none other than ourselves. Finding common ground and healing bitter divides, he says, requires placing obligations on the same footing as rights. "We get the government and the country we deserve. Getting the one we need is up to us." A highly experienced diplomat and policymaker, Dr. Haass served in the Pentagon, State Department, and White House under four Presidents, Democrat and Republican alike. His new book is "The Bill of Obligations. The Ten Habits of Good Citizens". For 20 years Richard Haass was president of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. Today he serves as CFR's president emeritus.
Until recently most of us outside of state government didn’t know much about the role of Secretary of State, the state’s top election official. We simply didn’t think about it. But since 2020, election laws and procedures have been in the spotlight – and election officials have come under attack.  In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground, we meet Democrat Steve Hobbs, Secretary of State for Washington, and Republican Michael Adams, Secretary of State for Kentucky.  Kentucky is a vote-in-person state, while Washington has voting by mail and at the dropbox. But no matter how people vote, suspicion of the entire process is rife. In recent years both men have encountered election deniers and faced threats to themselves and their staff. “These abuses, even if they’re not full-fledged threats of violence - it adds up,” says Michael Adams, “and it begins to really lay some strain on our election process. Hear what each of our guests is doing to protect democracy in his state, why being part of the Electronic Registration Information System (ERIC) is important to them, and how volunteers play a vital role in free and fair elections.
The United States has one of the highest news avoidance rates in the world. Tens of millions of Americans don’t read, watch or listen to the news each day. The media is generally held in low regard. So, is there a better way to report and analyze current events that will satisfy readers’ interests? In this repeat episode, we hear from Mark Sappenfield, Editor of The Christian Science Monitor, and Story Hinckley, the paper's National Political Correspondent. We’re re-releasing this podcast as the 2024 campaign begins to gather pace — a time when many news outlets have amped up their coverage speculated about winners and losers, and put additional emphasis on the nation’s deep partisan divides. We discuss evolving news values with the Monitor and how reporters and editors are striving to highlight constructive solutions that unite rather than divide. We also hear about election coverage and why the media need to challenge readers, build trust, and report the news truthfully.
Are Americans really as divided as we think we are? One liberal and one conservative jumped in an old Volvo and drove along nearly 20,000 miles of roads and highways in a series of journeys to find the answer. They went through 44 states and met an extraordinary range of people along the way. At a time of political gridlock and hyper-partisanship, Republican Jordan Blashek and Democrat Chris Haugh formed an unlikely friendship that blossomed, not in spite of, but because of their political differences. The result of their remarkable road trips is their book Union: A Democrat, A Republican and a Search for Common Ground." In this podcast episode, we hear a mixture of wisdom and humor and discover what Chris and Jordan learned about American politics, culture, civics, and our potential to find common ground.
Love is a central force in mitigating conflict, says writer and entrepreneur Chloé Valdary. She founded the diversity and inclusion training company, The Theory of Enchantment, and has a unique take on how we can heal racial division and hatred inside organizations and across American society.  Chloé developed a program for "compassionate anti-racism" that combines social-emotional learning (SEL), character development and interpersonal growth as tools for leadership development in businesses and the workplace. She calls her method "an anti-racism program that actually fights bigotry instead of spreading it." Her three principles of enchantment are: "Treat people like human beings not political extractions", "Criticize to lift up and empower, never to tear down and destroy," and "Root everything you do in love and compassion." This episode is an edited version of a conversation first recorded for Village SquareCast, produced by The Village Square. Both Let's Find Common Ground and Village SquareCast are members of The Democracy Group podcast network.
Comments (12)

Common Ground Committee

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Jun 24th


looking at the episode descriptions i see only one sided guests. why not open up to other views? why not have someone on who believes that "black lives matter" is a rascist group? why not have someone on who believes the "climate Crisis" is a joke. why not have someone on to explain why vote by mail is full.of fraud? more view points are always better.

Jul 31st
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