Finding Common Ground {Where Real Change Happens}

When we welcome others differences, we realize that we are not as different or extreme as we once thought.  For instance, some of us are passionate about searching for the fullness of hearty, wholesome foods (and can tend to be judgmental of those who do not), but few people have never been so busy that they have not resorted to fast food for dinner.  Photo by Denise Adrade www.deniseadrade.com

There is this passion inside me to reach out and help families who have welcomed a little one into the world find their way to the easiest path.  This path is one where they do not need healing from their birth experiences, feeding their little one comes easily, and they are supported by everyone around them.  On this path, they find that everything else falls into place:  A kitchen full of healthy foods, a community that loves and supports them as they make the best decisions for their own unique family, and peaceful days filled with learning and love.  My own passion doesn’t come from having experienced this myself with my first child, but rather from how far away we were then and how far we’ve come.  And it’s hard work (very hard work) to get this far.  And we still have so far to go.  I’m thankful for the strong women who have been patient, gentle, and kind to me as I’ve figured this world out for myself.  It’s their gentleness that reminds me that we must be gentle to others in order to love them. This is never more true than when a group of people who might differ on some important issues or values find common ground in which to move forward.

Working with community programs that provide assistance, education, and opportunities for families is rewarding and challenging in a way that makes me look deep into my own soul.  Many times I must remind myself that it is about families advocating for themselves rather than me influencing them to do what has worked for me.   Spending so much time and effort researching, attending conferences, and discussing ways to make breastfeeding easier for moms can leave me feeling as if breastfeeding is the ultimate goal when, in reality, simply helping moms find their own strength and power should be my mission.  So how do you support others and encourage them to advocate for themselves while staying true to your own beliefs and contributing your own thoughts and ideas?  Carefully, and with lots of love.

 “When people called to the same passion learn to work together, amazing things start to happen.”

Passionate people are going to be called to something that needs change. They will then be called to either preserve what once was, create something new, or simply sustain. It’s important to recognize the need and place for everyone within a work group, community, or even within our own families.  For example, my husband has devoted his entire career thus far to developing more sustainable agriculture practices that greatly reduce the amount of sprays and irrigation required to produce profitable and in-demand agriculture products.  His work can help farmers increase profits, enable them to farm full time, and potentially help globally with countries experiencing water issues.  I’d call this creating new and improved opportunities.  At the same time I am constantly seeking resources for organic, non-GMO, gluten-free items for our kitchen.  There are differences in our daily focus, but we are committed to supporting one another.  Some of my most respected friends are passionately advocating organic food only for everyone on the planet (preserving) while we know farmers who are simply struggling to stay on their family farm (sustaining).  There’s a place for everyone to move towards a better system.  When people called to the same passion, but with different backgrounds, learn to work together, amazing things start to happen.   

Changing Core Beliefs {Getting Control of Myself}

Every time I’ve had a complete change of mind on an issue, it takes me through a series of emotions:  Confusion, excitement, and anger are often first as I try to figure out the influences that led me to believe so differently in the first place (I could use prejudices and judgmental religion as examples.).  I’ve learned from past mistakes that it is nearly impossible to work well with a diverse group if I am still angry about an issue.  I’ve also learned that if a topic still brings up uncontrollable emotions then it is probably best to leave those topics off the table or remove myself from the conversation.

It’s important for me to add here that I think it‘s very important to be entitled to one’s own feelings on a subject.  Some of the most passionate, opinionated (and even angry) people I know are the ones who challenge and encourage me most often.  I hope that they never change because this world would be less exciting if they did!  But in situations where they are working with others to develop a common ground, I have found that it is best to leave the anger for someplace else.

Forgiving Quickly

When I blame the choices, habits, and systems of others around me then I am limiting my own power to make my own decisions and think freely.  This can be paralyzing and limit a person from working with others to find change that is realistic at this moment in time.   Forgiveness is the most important thing you can do for your own spiritual, mental, and physical health.    When someone else’s actions seem unforgiveable, you will most likely find that they need forgiveness more than anyone.  Common ground is about working with others to find a better way, and if I cannot let things go, then I can become the road block to progress.

Seeking Accountability

In order for anyone to give of their own time, gifts, and abilities, it is going to be to do something that they are passionate about.  I’m no different and I’ve found that the wonderful people in this community are the same.  When you are spending a lot of your time helping others, there will be days where fear and frustration can overwhelm you.  Seeking someone I can trust with all of my feelings and emotions has been so important to me.  It’s important that they are someone you can trust but you know they won’t take anything you say too seriously.  It is also important that they are willing to be honest when you are wrong.  The strong, capable women in my life that have lifted me up and encouraged me over the past couple of years are invaluable to my ability to give of myself to my family and the community.

Letting Go of Offenses

Whoever said “you can’t please everyone” was telling the truth!  I’ve had people tell me they are praying for me because I seem to be losing my religion, while others are concerned that I’m too religious to care about social justice issues effectively.    When you share your personal story with others you must be prepared for others to let you know what they think about it.  I’ve learned to be open to constructive criticism, willing to explain my ideas further, and quite often, let go of offenses as quickly as possible.  This is another area where having wise counsel from women that I respect helps tremendously!

Not About My Agenda

In order to find common ground you must be willing to graciously offer what you have learned from your own life experiences without making it about your own agenda.  I feel very opinionated about certain issues, especially those concerning families. Having a family of my own there are choices that my husband and I have made that we feel are perfectly suited for us.  Because we changed our core beliefs on many of these areas of our life, I went through the emotional challenges of evaluating everything I had been taught about the family.  With this evaluation came a lot of very strong emotional connections to the choices we have made, but it is so important for me to remember that my choices are not perfectly suited for everyone else. Take healthy eating for example:  Because of personal convictions and health issues within our family, we have become motivated to spend a lot of time, money, and energy on eating a diet from real, whole foods.  It’s something I enjoy putting time into, and my husband is supportive of us increasing our monthly grocery bills to do so.  But that doesn’t mean that we absolutely never eat fast food or let the kids have a sweet treat.   At the same time I know some pretty amazing families who eat fast food fairly regularly but are doing very admirable things in other areas with their children that I hope to accomplish with mine one day.   We influence one another through mutual respect and not by selling our point of view or becoming judgmental.

Refusing Common Ground

There are a few areas that I am not willing to negotiate on caused by some personal experiences that have left me with strong opinions.  My family and close friends know where I stand on these issues, but because it wouldn’t be helpful for me to bring these issues to a work group finding common ground, I leave them at home. 

There may be areas of your life that you are unable to negotiate on or look past your own strong, personal convictions.  Give yourself permission to do this.  Most importantly, respect others who are doing the same.  I have seen the most conflict among advocates who feel really strongly about the common goal but have one or two differing views they are not willing to negotiate on.  It’s important that pride not prevent someone from helping make the world a better place.   

Embracing Differences {Love}

I remember being a teenager and hearing people say that you get wiser with age.  I believe that a lot more today than I did back then.  One of the ways that I see myself getting wiser is my ability to embrace the differences of others.  I grew up during the time of “tolerance”.   Let me say that there is nothing wrong with tolerance, in fact, without it this great country we live in would be pretty hectic.  But in teaching my children to love others, I’ve found that when we simply tolerate someone else’s differences we are really judging them and putting our own ideas and choices above theirs.  Loving others helps us to see the beauty inside of them.  It’s been my experience that I’m capable of so much more when I’m loved.  Who can you love today?

The complete article can be read in the April 2012 issue of SOKY Happenings.