How Do We Unite for a Common Goal?

As of this morning, the possible swing states are still counting the 2020 election votes. We knew this would happen. Why? Because back in the spring, when election officials planned for the fall, they thought the virus would be gone by now. Or, that we would have a vaccine. Or some other rosy prediction.

Note to self: I definitely need to write a post about how too few people respect risks and risk management. (Insert maniacal laughter here.)

Here’s what’s clear about the current state of the election: We have a split, if not polarized, population. I suspect that’s because we rank very high, if not highest on individualism as a cultural dimension.

As a culture, we love thinking we can “go it alone.” Or “Pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” I particularly like, “You can be anyone you want to be with enough perseverance.” I bet you can think of more metaphors and cliches that speak to the power of the individual.

All these metaphors and cliches share a problem—they’re insufficient.

Every single one of us needs a support system. We need support from our families, our friends, our colleagues, and more. If we don’t have support from one of these groups, we might be able to use other groups to help us.

For any significant endeavor, we need other people to work with us.

That means we need other people, united for a common goal. How do we do that?

We need to first approach other people as if they have hearts and minds. And, to remember they are not stupid. We need to respect their positions before we attempt to change their hearts and minds.

Respect Other People’s Positions

In Who or What Deserves Your Respect, I suggested that we need mutual respect to have a reasonable relationship. I said we need to extend respect, even before receiving respect.

I used to think I only needed logic. As soon as I showed people the error of their thinking, I would win them to my side of the argument.

I was so naive.

As I said before, we need hearts, not just minds. That means we need to lead with empathy.

I’ve said before I fight to build my empathy skills. That’s because I start thinking “all” I need is logic.

I suspect we need to address people’s fears before we can unite on any goal. We especially need to address their economic and pandemic fears.

For example, we have a bifurcated economy in the US. Last year, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2019 reported a median salary of $68,703. That means half the population earns less than that number. If I earned that little, I would worry about the economy. (I worry about it anyway. However, I’m not in danger of losing my home or not having enough to eat.)

What about pandemic fears? In the US, our new cases continue to increase every day. We do not have “control” over this pandemic.

We might need to address more fears before we can unite.

Empathy allows us to create and form a support system for each other. For me, empathy starts with congruence. How can I balance the self, other, and context?

The question this week is: How do we unite for a common goal?

2 thoughts on “How Do We Unite for a Common Goal?

  1. Marsha

    Okay. Here is something I learned quite by accident one evening in in late 2001, after the fall of the Twin Towers in NYC. I was the producer for a televised conversation between a Muslim professor of Theology and a Catholic priest, both teaching at Boston College. The purpose of the conversation was to show viewers how people who don’t necessarily hold the same beliefs or even values could achieve meaningful dialogue and find common ground for bridging their divides through simple techniques.

    The conversation, almost two full hours, was fascinating, and got picked up by several nearby towns for broadcast on their own stations. We felt pretty good about the production, overall. After we wrapped up, the cast and the professors got together for a light buffet and coffee.

    I found myself in conversation with Father Ray, who when I asked him how he felt the conversation went, said that when he was in seminary, studying for the priesthood, he learned the most important tenet for conversation with people who didn’t believe in what he did. Central to what the Jesuits taught him was that he had to begin every conversation with the determination of working toward saving the other fellow’s proposition. He warmed to his topic and said that if he could start from that point of commonality, anything was possible. To do it, he had to find a way to argue in favor of whatever it was that was counter to his own argument, and find the valid base in it. He concluded, “Once I can save his proposition, I know enough about it to argue intelligently with him, and perhaps persuade him to consider other propositions. It’s always about looking for common ground.”

    I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.

    In my better moments, I remember to use it, too. Right now, I confess I’m not inclined to find a common ground with 40% or so of the people who live in this country. They can stay, but I don’t want anything to do with them, much less seek common ground.


    1. Johanna Post author

      Marsha, that “saving the other fellow’s proposition” makes me start with respect and empathy. That also helps the other person feel as if you heard them. All good things.

      I just had this insight, which might or might not be true. We have a bifurcated economy. I suspect that bifurcation leads to an election like this. People are afraid of losing what they have. Especially if one of the people stokes that fear. I suspect that fear prevents empathy and respect. So does zero-sum game thinking.

      As a country, we need to unify for a common goal. Right now, we are not. I trust that if we can engage people in a common goal, we can do almost anything. Without a common goal? What we have now—everyone out for themselves.

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